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Season review: Israel

Published: Wednesday 4 June 2014, 9.24CET
Now departed for FC Basel 1893, Paulo Sousa led Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC to the title by a massive 16-point margin, with Hapoel Kiryat Shmona FC winning the cup for the first time.
by Boaz Goren
Season review: Israel
Paulo Sousa guided Maccabi Tel-Aviv to glory ©AFP/Getty Images
Published: Wednesday 4 June 2014, 9.24CET

Season review: Israel

Now departed for FC Basel 1893, Paulo Sousa led Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC to the title by a massive 16-point margin, with Hapoel Kiryat Shmona FC winning the cup for the first time.

Under the guidance of Paulo Sousa, Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC eventually cantered to their second successive Israeli Premier League title, finishing 16 points clear of runners-up Hapoel Beer Sheva FC. Sousa has since left the club to join FC Basel 1893 and been replaced by the man who steered the Yellows to the championship last term, Óscar García. Beaten on penalties in the 2013 decider, modest northern club Hapoel Kiryat Shmona FC claimed the Israeli Cup for the first time.

Champions: Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC
"We worked and fought the whole year for this moment," said Paulo Sousa after his side took the title. "Now it looks easy but it was a long season with many hard moments." Inspired by 29-goal Eran Zahavi, the most decorated team in Israel won their 21st league title. With Jordi Cruyff still in situ as sporting director, Paulo Sousa inherited most of Óscar García's squad, though things were not as easy as the end-of-season table suggests. For much of the campaign, Beer Sheva were within reasonable striking distance, but Maccabi's 2-0 victory when the sides met on 31 March stretched their advantage to eight points. It was a loss from which the Reds of the South did not recover, one of six in their final ten fixtures.

©Israel Football Association

Kiryat Shmona win their first State Cup

Cup final: Maccabi Netanya FC 0-1 Hapoel Kiryat Shmona FC
Ahmed Abed's extra-time winner against Maccabi Netanya earned Kiryat Shmona their first State Cup, though the second-tier champions will hope for revenge when they return to the top flight in 2014/15 after a year away. "It will take time to digest this season," said Kiryat Shmona coach Barak Bachar. "We finished third and have won the first cup in the club's history − I've always said a cup is the happiest trophy. I love my players so much; they are the kind it is a delight to work with."

European places*
Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC – UEFA Champions League second qualifying round
Hapoel Kiryat Shmona FC – UEFA Europa League third qualifying round
Hapoel Beer Sheva FC – UEFA Europa League second qualifying round
Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC – UEFA Europa League second qualifying round

* Subject to final confirmation by UEFA

Player of the year: Eran Zahavi (Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC)
The midfielder outscored everyone in the Liga ha' Al, matching his total for the previous four seasons combined. The 26-year-old Israeli international registered two hat-tricks, completing his first with goals in the 89th and 90th minutes as Maccabi dramatically recovered from 2-1 down to defeat the side with which he won the title in 2009/10, Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC.

One to watch: Kenny Saief (Hapoel Ironi Nir Ramat HaSharon FC)
No goals in 11 appearances for Bnei Sakhnin FC, Hapoel Haifa FC and Hapoel Kiryat Shmona over the previous three campaigns meant Saief entered this season under the radar. However, the pacey 20-year-old scored nine of his team's 29 league goals and performed with maturity beyond his years in a young side that lost their top-flight status on goal difference. "People might think that I've changed overnight, but it was a result of hard work and practice," he said. "I must continue on that path."

Surprise package: Hapoel Beer Sheva FC
Hapoel Tel-Aviv and Maccabi Haifa FC did everything last summer to challenge Maccabi Tel-Aviv, but it was Elisha Levi's experience and eye for a player that helped Beer Sheva finish second. With Elyaniv Barda (KRC Genk) and Maor Buzaglo (R. Standard de Liège) returning home from Belgium, things looked good from the off. Indeed, Beer Sheva lost just one of their first 20 matches, a sequence that featured a 3-2 triumph over Maccabi Tel-Aviv on 4 November.

Leading scorer: Eran Zahavi (29)

Relegated: Hapoel Ironi Nir Ramat HaSharon FC, Bnei Yehuda Tel-Aviv FC

Promoted: Maccabi Netanya FC, Hapoel Petah Tikva FC

Number: 9
Times Bnei Yehuda conceded after the 90-minute mark. They finished bottom with 31 points, a total which could have been greater but for a tendency to lose focus in the final stages of matches.

Quote
"It was my goal! He didn't touch it."
Dan Einbinder to referee Liran Waxberger after he awarded team-mate Zahavi his 30th goal of the season. The goal against Hapoel Kiryat Shmona on 11 May was later awarded to Einbinder, but not before Zahavi had joked: "Poor guy. He finally scores and everyone thinks I did it"

Last updated: 17/06/14 21.52CET

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