Hapoel Tel Aviv celebrate unlikely double
Unfancied Hapoel snatched the Premier League title after scoring an injury-time goal in a 2-1 win against Beitar Jerusalem, denying Maccabi Haifa a second straight triumph in one of the most dramatic season endings on Saturday.
It was the Tel Aviv outfit's first league title for a decade, while devastated Haifa, who led the table going into the final round of matches and needed to win against hosts Bnei Yehuda Tel Aviv to secure the crown, managed only a 1-1 draw.
"I don't believe it, I did not imagine that Maccabi Haifa would not win, all credit to Bnei Yehuda, they are true sportsmen," jubilant midfielder Gil Vermouth said after Hapoel won their 14th title on goal difference.
While Hapoel players, who secured the State Cup last Tuesday, broke down in tears as they celebrated at Beitar's Teddy Stadium, the mood was sombre in Haifa.
Stage technicians were frantically dismantling the amplification equipment that had been prematurely set up for the anticipated celebration of Maccabi's success.
Striker Shlomi Arbeitman summed up his team's disappointment.
"It is a really difficult day for the club, all credit to the fans that supported us but it appears that we did not deserve to win the championship," he said.
Haifa had led the league for most of the season but their points total was cut in half along with the other 15 Premier League clubs after teams had completed two rounds of fixtures.
It was part of an innovative play-off experiment introduced by the Israeli FA to add excitement and close the gap between sides vying for the title.
Hapoel will play in the qualifying rounds of next season's Champions League, while Maccabi Haifa will play in the Europa League along with Maccabi Tel Aviv and Bnei Yehuda.