Maccabi Haifa secure Israeli league title

JERUSALEM - Maccabi Haifa won the Israeli league title with a game to spare after beating Hapoel Kiryat Shmona 2-0 on Monday, a result that put them six points clear of Hapoel Tel Aviv.

Haifa's steady form in the 16-team Premier League secured a 12th title for the club from Israel's northern port city who along with Hapoel have consistenty been one the country's top sides over the past three decades.

Compared with previous championships when they totally dominated their opponents, Haifa did not always produce sparkling performances this season but no other team could match their consistency.

A capacity 15,000 crowd at Haifa's Kiryat Eliezer Stadium cheered the victory and witnessed a fireworks display from their seats, refraining from the pitch invasions that have been a regular feature of championship celebrations in recent years.

Haifa needed one point to secure the title and, after a lacklustre first half, attacking midfielder Lior Refaelov scored with a 63rd-minute penalty and struck again 10 minutes later.

Haifa can complete the double when they play Hapoel Tel Aviv in the State Cup final next week, a first-ever meeting between the sides in the competition.

Haifa, Israel's first representatives in the Champions League group stages in 2002, will play in the latter stages of the competition's qualifying rounds aiming to reach the group stage for the third time.