"Small victory – Big history." So read the sign on one of the banners displayed by triumphant fans as Hapoel Ironi Kiryat Shmona FC made history by clinching a first Israeli title with a goalless draw against their closest challengers, Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC, on Monday night.
The stalemate meant that neither Hapoel nor third-placed Maccabi Haifa FC can catch Kiryat Shmona, 16 points clear in the standings, and it secured a night of celebration 12 years after the club's foundation following the merger of Hapoel Kiryat Shmona FC and Maccabi Kiryat Shmona FC. The homegrown captain, Adrian Rochet, said: "We made history in Kiryat Shmona and we are happy, it's a dream. Early in the season, no one really gave us a chance to be champions."
Ran Ben Shimon, the Kiryat Shmona coach, last won the title as a player at Hapoel Haifa FC in the 1998/99 campaign. He reflected on the steps that the club, already successful in this season's League Cup, had taken as he said: "I simply love everything we did here in our amazing way. I have satisfaction and pride. We should enjoy every minute of this."
The club's owner and founder, Izzy Sheratzki, hailed the efforts of his coach when he said: "I want to say thanks to Ran Ben Shimon. This season has been wonderful and we did it thanks to him. Kiryat Shmona are here to stay and [aim to] remain at the top for years to come. Taking the championship so early in the season is incredible. We need to work hard for next year in order to represent Israel in the UEFA Champions League qualifiers."
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