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Season review: Israel

Published: Tuesday 22 May 2012, 12.40CET
Hapoel Kiryat Shmona FC claimed a first Israeli title in their fourth season in the top flight amid a campaign for the unheralded, Achmad Saba'a and Bnei Yehuda Tel-Aviv FC included.
by Boaz Goren
Season review: Israel
Kiryat Shmona celebrate their League Cup triumph ©Nir Keidar
Published: Tuesday 22 May 2012, 12.40CET

Season review: Israel

Hapoel Kiryat Shmona FC claimed a first Israeli title in their fourth season in the top flight amid a campaign for the unheralded, Achmad Saba'a and Bnei Yehuda Tel-Aviv FC included.

Hapoel Kiryat Shmona FC made history by clinching the first Israeli title in their short history with five matches to spare after a remarkable campaign. Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC ended 14 points adrift in second but ended the season on a high after retaining the State Cup for the third successive year.

Champions: Hapoel Kiryat Shmona FC
The notion that Kiryat Shmona would win the title at a canter would have attracted laughter and scorn last summer. The Israeli top flight's most northerly club were only formed in 2000 and did not grace the Premier League until 2007/08 – they were relegated the following season. Yet until the closing stages when they took their foot off the gas, Ran Ben Shimon's parsimonious side, League Cup winners, were unstoppable, taking the lead in December and never relinquishing it. For the rest it was soon just a race for second place.

Cup final: Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC 2-1 Maccabi Haifa FC
Deposed champions Maccabi Haifa endured a frustrating campaign. A final-day draw consigned them to fifth in the league – victory would have lifted them to second – and they were similarly denied at the last in the cup final. The showpiece appeared destined for extra time after Dela Yampolsky cancelled out Mirko Oremuš's opener for the holders. Yet, in the 92nd minute, Nosa Igiebor pounced to ensure a last-gasp – and 15th cup – triumph for Hapoel.

European places*
Hapoel Kiryat Shmona FC – UEFA Champions League, second qualifying round
Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC – UEFA Europa League, third qualifying round
Maccabi Netanya FC – UEFA Europa League, second qualifying round
Bnei Yehuda Tel-Aviv FC – UEFA Europa League, second qualifying round

*Subject to final confirmation from UEFA

Player of the Year: Achmad Saba'a (Maccabi Netanya FC)
Saba'a did not grace the top flight until, aged 28, joining Maccabi Netanya three summers ago. He made decent goalscoring returns in his first two campaigns but really established himself as a deadly marksman this season with a league-leading 20 as the Diamonds finished fourth, claiming a UEFA Europa League spot.

One to watch: Sintyaho Solelich (Hapoel Akko FC)
The attacking midfielder spent the season on loan from Maccabi Haifa and the Greens will have been delighted with the 21-year-old's progress. With quick feet and a deft touch allied to growing maturity, he was ever-present as Hapoel Akko finished mid-table, scoring seven goals and claiming eight assists.

Surprise package: Bnei Yehuda Tel-Aviv FC
In a year full of surprises and unlikely heroes, Bnei Yehuda perhaps contributed the biggest shock as they recovered from a slow start to the campaign to finish second. Eighth with seven games remaining, Yossi Abukasis's side won five of their closing fixtures and were on course for second before a last-day defeat.

Leading scorer: Ahmad Saba'a (Maccabi Netanya FC) 20

Relegated: Maccabi Petach-Tikva FC, Hapoel Ironi Rishon-LeZion FC, Hapoel Petach-Tikva FC

Promoted: Hapoel Ramat-Gan FC (The Premier League is dropping to 14 teams)

Number: 25
League games Kiryat Shmona were unbeaten for between 27 August and 3 March.

Quote
"The course of this championship passes through my mind and everything comes from a place of happiness. I love all the people involved and what we did here. Where's my son?"
Kiryat Shmona's Ben Shimon spreads the love after claiming his first championship as a coach.

Last updated: 10/07/12 13.52CET

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