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Season review: Israel

Published: Wednesday 16 June 2010, 11.47CET
There was drama aplenty in Israel after Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC added the league title to the State Cup with a 92nd-minute goal on the last day of the season helping them overhaul Maccabi Haifa FC.
by Ofer Ronen-Abels
Season review: Israel
Etey Shechter celebrates Hapoel's title success ©Yoed Cohen, YNET
Published: Wednesday 16 June 2010, 11.47CET

Season review: Israel

There was drama aplenty in Israel after Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC added the league title to the State Cup with a 92nd-minute goal on the last day of the season helping them overhaul Maccabi Haifa FC.

One of the most dramatic seasons in Israeli football history came down to a photo-finish between Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC and Maccabi Haifa FC, with the former taking the league title on goal difference. Eli Gutman's side went into the last set of fixtures on the back of winning the State Cup four days earlier, but it was only a 92nd-minute goal from Eran Zehavi that helped them overhaul their Haifa rivals.

Champions: Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC
Top scorers in the division, Hapoel fully deserved their title despite trailing Haifa for most of the campaign. In one of the closest races in recent seasons, they were still two points behind the reigning champions going into the last day, but the frontrunners could only draw with Bnei Yehuda Tel-Aviv FC leaving the door open. However, there was still drama as ten-man Hapoel had to wait until deep into added time before finding the winner against Beitar Jerusalem FC that gave them the title on goal difference. "I still find it hard to believe we managed to pull this one off," said Hapoel midfielder Gil Vermouth. "It is more than a fairy tale and if I hadn't played in it myself I would have found it hard to believe."

Cup final: Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC 3-1 Bnei Yehuda Tel-Aviv FC
Hapoel lifted the State Cup for the third time in five years to pick up the first leg in what proved to be their second domestic double. Two Vermouth goals and a penalty from Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama proved too much for Bnei Yehuda who were temporary on level terms through Douglas da Silva's own goal.

European places*

Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC – UEFA Champions League second qualifying round.
Maccabi Haifa FC – UEFA Europa League third qualifying round.
Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC – UEFA Europa League second qualifying round.
Bnei Yehuda Tel Aviv FC – UEFA Europa League first qualifying round.
*Subject to final confirmation from UEFA

Player of the year: Gil Vermouth (Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC)
Leading his side to the double, the diminutive playmaker scored nine league goals and four in the cup – two of which came in the final – and contributed no less than 16 assists. The Israeli international also shone in Europe, helping his club to top their UEFA Europa League group ahead of eventual semi-finalists Hamburger SV, Celtic FC and SK Rapid Wien.

One to watch: Eyal Golasa (Maccabi Haifa FC)
The 18-year-old midfielder may have suffered a stop-start season due to injury, but from the talent displayed during his 15 outings, it is clear Haifa have another great prospect on their hands. Having made his Under-21 debut a month after his 17th birthday, Golasa is already knocking on the door of the senior set-up.

Surprise package: Bnei Sakhnin FC
Hailing from a town with a population of only 26,000 in the Galilee hills, Bnei Sakhnin have had mixed fortunes in recent years, winning the State Cup in 2004, but suffering relegation two seasons later. Back in the top flight since 2007, Sakhnin struggled at the start of the campaign, accruing just five points from their first six matches. However, Marko Balbul's appointment turned their season around and the coach not only guided Sakhnin to safety, but led them to a seventh-place finish. 

Leading scorer: Shlomi Arbeitman, Maccabi Haifa FC (28)

Number: ½
The decision of the Israel Football Association (IFA) to introduce a system where the points tally of each side is halved after each team had played each other twice was made to increase interest – it certainly produced in that department after a dramatic end to the season.

Relegated: Hapoel Ra'anana FC, Maccabi Ahi Nazareth FC

Promoted: Hapoel Kiryat Shmona FC, Hapoel Ashkelon FC


Quote
"It's exciting just to watch the replays on TV. I am still a bit scared that I am dreaming and the commentator will suddenly say that Haifa scored a goal [against Bnei Yehuda] at Bloomfield."
Hapoel Tel-Aviv coach Eli Gutman still cannot quite believe his side's last minute of the season triumph

Related Items
"It is more than a fairy tale and if I hadn't played in it myself I would have found it hard to believe."
Gil Vermouth
Last updated: 16/06/10 10.14CET

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