The Maccabi Tel Aviv soccer club secured its first Israeli Premier League title in a decade on Saturday night with a 1:0 victory over Hapoel Kiryat Shmona at home in Bloomfield Stadium.
Tel Aviv defeated Kiryat Shmona — last season’s Cinderella story league champion — with an 87th minute strike by midfielder Eran Zehavi. It completed the 2012-13 season as the league’s clear victor with 12 wins, two draws, and five losses, 10 points ahead of second place Maccabi Haifa.
Saturday’s match against Kiryat Shmona was insignificant inasmuch as Maccabi Tel Aviv had built an unassailable lead over the rest of the table. The players took to the pitch in good spirits, many of them marking their championship by shaving half of their heads. The 11,000 blue-and-yellow clad fans began celebrating the imminent title in Bloomfield’s stands as soon as the game kicked off.
After the match, players and fans massed in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square to celebrate the team’s league victory. Rock band Ethnix, which composed a song specifically for the championship events, as well as singer Lior Narkis, performed in honor of the occasion.
Much of the credit for the club’s success this season goes to head coach, Spanish national Oscar Garcia. The first-time head coach, who arrived in Israel last May, kept his cool, still distributing platitudes to the players, owners, fans, and rivals, after winning the championship.
The title, the team’s 18th overall, lines up Maccabi Tel Aviv to qualify for a slot in the prestigious European Champions League. If it manages to win its way through to the pre-qualifying rounds, it could face off against star-studded international teams like Manchester United, Barcelona, and Bayern Munich.