The Israeli Premier League isn’t one of the best or worth watching in European football, but the relegation battle that has come to the point of no return with one match-day left to play, putting six teams (Hapoel Haifa, Beitar Jerusalem, Hapoel Be’er Sheva, Hapoel Acre, Bnei Sakhnin, Maccabi Netanya) in danger of dropping to the second tier (Liga Leumit), with all six of them involved in matches between one another.
The league consists of 14 teams and after 26 matches is split into two – the Top Playoff with the top 6 clubs, where there wasn’t any real battle for the title, as Maccabi Tel Aviv won it quite comfortable, currently holding a 13 point lead with 3 matches left to play, and the Bottom Playoff with 8 teams, the last two being relegated. It’s also worth mentioning that the bottom playoff is shorter than the top one, with no home-away system but each time facing one of the other seven once, making it a total of 33 matches in a season instead of 36 for the top 6 clubs.
Bottom Playoff table (Via Wikipedia)
|10||Hapoel Be’er Sheva||32||9||11||12||29||39||−10||38|
|14||Hapoel Ramat Gan||32||7||9||16||37||44||−7||30|
The final week presents the perfect, tense ending one can dream of when looking for excitement (instead of quality), even if it’s not a league he usually follows. Ashdod, the only team safe from relegation, get to play against Hapoel Ramat Gan, the only team already sure of its relegation. The other three matches mean the world to all six teams, with Hapoel Haifa playing Acre, Netanya playing Be’er Sheva and Sakhnin hosting Beiter Jerusalem in a very racially charged match, going beyond the definition and boundaries of sport.
Hapoel Haifa are in the best situation, able to afford a loss in their match against Acre and still finish about the drop zone as long as it’s only by one goal. A win or a draw will be enough for them to stay on for another season. Acre will definitley stay if they win their match, and can still survive with a draw or even a loss if Maccabi Netanya lose to Be’er Sheva.
Beitar Jerusalem will remain in the Premier League if they win or draw their match at Sakhnin. A loss, and they need to hope Maccabi Netanya don’t win their match against Be’er Sheva, because they’ll lose in the gold-differential tie breaker, while also hoping Acre do not beat Hapoel Haifa. For Sakhnin, a win will keep them as the only Arab team in the Premier League for another season, while a draw will only be enough if Netanya don’t win. A loss, and they need to hope Netanya lose.
Maccabi Netanya can survive if they draw their match against Be’er Sheva, but only if Sakhnin and/or Acre lose their matches, enjoying a better goal differential. A win keeps them in the league thanks to their goal differential. Be’er Sheva remain in the top flight with a win or a draw, but can also afford to lose if Sakhnin or Acre do not win.
Beitar Jerusalem are the biggest of the clubs in terms of fanhood and titles, winning six league titles, the last of which in 2008. They’ve seemed to lose most of their stadium support this season after signing two Muslim players from Chechnya. Netanya and Be’er Sheva come next in terms of “football” importance, but it’s been a very long time – more than three decades, since they’ve been an integral part of the higher reaches of the table.
Hapoel Haifa do have one championship to speak of, but they’re usually a club that fights for relegation, sometimes missing out on another year, and in generally lives in the shadow of the most successful Israeli team in the past 30 years, Maccabi Haifa. Sakhnin don’t represent a big city, but they are the only Arab-Israel club in the league, and the only one among the three that have managed to reach the top flight that has managed to remain in it for more than one season.