Soccer: Maccabi Tel Aviv increases gap ahead of playoffs

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Authors: TheIndianSubcontinent News Agency

Maccabi Tel Aviv will enter the Premier League championship playoffs with a fivepoint margin at the top of the standings, after comfortably beating Hapoel Petah Tikva 2-0 at Bloomfield Stadium on Monday night.

The match in Bloomfield capped the regular season, with the top six sides to face each other twice more for the title in the championship playoffs, while the bottom eight sides will play one another once more to decide the battle against relegation.

Maccabi dominated Monday’s encounter from the first whistle, and there was little doubt regarding the identity of the winner once Eran Zahavi netted his 21st league goal of the season to break the deadlock in the 10th minute. Dor Micha doubled the lead nine minutes later and Maccabi maintained its unbeaten home record this season, claiming its 10th win from 13 matches.

Maccabi moved five points clear of second- place Hapoel Beersheba with the win, and despite claiming just its second victory in six matches, will enter the playoffs as a firm favorite to clinch a third straight league title. Beersheba leapfrogged into second place on Sunday thanks to a 2-0 win over Bnei Sakhnin, its 11th win from 13 home matches to date. However, Beersheba has triumphed in only one of its past 10 games on the road.

Third-place Kiryat Shmona looked to be Maccabi’s main challenger for the title for much of the first half of the season, leading the standings for a three-month stretch.

However, the northerners have won just one of their last eight games, losing their past three to fall seven points behind first place.

The yellow-and-blue opens the championship playoffs with a game against in-form Maccabi Haifa at Bloomfield next Sunday. Haifa has won three straight matches and is battling for fourth place, which will lead to Europa League qualification should either Maccabi Tel Aviv or Beersheba lift the State Cup.

In other action over the upcoming weekend, Beersheba welcomes Maccabi Petah Tikva and Beitar Jerusalem visits Kiryat Shmona. The next meeting between the current title favorites, Maccabi and Beersheba, will be held at Bloomfield after the international break on April 6.

Beersheba will host Tel Aviv on May 11.

Maccabi ends its campaign three weeks later against Petah Tikva at home, while Beersheba faces Beitar at Vasermil Stadium.

Meanwhile, Israel national team coach Eli Gutman named a 23-man squad for Wednesday’s training session. Gutman called up the same 21 players invited to last week’s session, while also adding to the squad Maccabi Haifa striker Eliran Atar and Greens midfielder Avihai Yadin.

Their teammate Yossi Benayoun was left out once more and seems unlikely to be called up for the Euro 2016 qualifiers against Wales and Belgium later this month.

The 23-man roster does not include any Israelis playing abroad, with around seven of them set to be named in the official squad for the qualifiers which will be announced later this week.

Israel hosts Wales at Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa on March 28 before facing Belgium at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem three days later.

Israel currently leads Group B with a perfect nine points from three matches, with Wales in second place, one point further back from four games, while favorite Belgium has five points from its first three contests.

The top two in each group qualify automatically along with the best third-place finisher, while the remaining eight thirdplace teams go into a playoff.