Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC wrapped up their 19th Israeli championship with four games to spare, yet the battle at the other end of the table has gone down to the wire – entering the final round of the relegation play-offs, six teams are battling for survival.
Hapoel Ramat Gan FC are already down, but the identity of the side that will join them will be decided in three venues on Saturday evening as the six teams directly above go head to head. It promises to be a nervy night, swinging this way and that, with fans and coaching staff struggling to maintain focus as they keep half an eye on events elsewhere.
It could be a simple equation. If Maccabi Netanya FC, the club currently sat in the drop zone, lose at home to Hapoel Beer Sheva FC then they are relegated in unlucky 13th place; the other sides could rest easy. Yet with Netanya having managed back-to-back victories to keep afloat, nobody will be relying on a defeat for Reuven Atar's men. "We can't be focused on calculations," warned Hapoel Haifa FC coach Nir Klinger.
Klinger is in the enviable position of knowing his team can afford to lose by a single goal and still be assured of a top-flight place next term. A narrow triumph would also suit Haifa's visitors Hapoel Akko FC, although with such fine margins no one wants to leave anything to chance. "We have done what was needed up until this point," said Akko boss Yuval Naim. "I'm confident we will finish the job."
Perhaps the most surprising of the six clubs jostling for safety are Beitar Jerusalem FC, champions as recently as 2008. They were celebrating survival nearly three weeks ago, only to realise after a recount that a two-goal defeat at Bnei Sakhnin FC on Saturday could yet bring unforeseen misery. "This is a nightmare," admitted Beitar coach Eli Cohen, whose side have won one of their last nine games. "We will go hoping to win and stay up without favours from elsewhere."
Beer Sheva coach Elisha Levy echoed that sentiment, saying: "The situation all six teams are in is insane. We are masters of our own destiny and I can say Beer Sheva will stay in the Premier League." Of course, if his charges beat Netanya, then events elsewhere will not matter.
* The Israeli Premier League split in two after 26 matches, with the top six entering one set of play-offs and the bottom eight another.
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|Last updated: 02/05/2013 11:12 CET|
|1||Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC||33||74|
|2||Maccabi Haifa FC||33||61|
|3||Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC||33||55|
|4||Hapoel Kiryat Shmona FC||33||50|
|5||Bnei Yehuda Tel-Aviv FC||33||49|
|6||Hapoel Ironi Nir Ramat HaSharon FC||33||37|
|8||Hapoel Haifa FC||32||38|
|9||Beitar Jerusalem FC||32||38|
|10||Hapoel Beer Sheva FC||32||38|
|11||Hapoel Akko FC||32||36|
|12||Bnei Sakhnin FC||32||36|
|13||Maccabi Netanya FC||32||35|
|14||Hapoel Ramat Gan FC||32||30|