Ironi Kiryat Shmona FC wins historic Israeli title
JERUSALEM - The Associated Press
Hapoel Ironi Kiryat Shmona players celebrate winning the Israeli title for the first time in club history after the draw against Hapoel Tel Aviv. REUTERS photoHapoel Ironi Kiryat Shmona won the Israeli championship for the first time in its history on April 2, completing a league and cup double for the low-budget team from a tiny northern city in only its second season back in the top flight.
Having already won the Toto Cup in January, Hapoel Ironi Kiryat Shmona drew 0-0 at home with Hapoel Tel Aviv for an unassailable 16-point lead over second-place Hapoel Tel Aviv in the league with only five rounds left.
It is just the second time in more than two decades that a team outside the “big four” of Maccabi Haifa, Maccabi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Tel Aviv and Beitar Jerusalem have claimed the championship. Those sides have won the past 12 titles and 20 out of the past 21.
“This is undoubtedly the best moment in my career so far,” forward Shimon Abuhatzeira said. “We overcame many things on the way ... We worked hard and today everyone saw we could do it. I am so happy that today (the title) is finally in our hands.”
Fireworks filled the sky above Ironi Stadium as the players celebrated the title win in front of about 4,000 fans.
“It is one of the most incredible championships in Israeli history, in my opinion,” striker Barak Badash told Channel 1 television. “I am the happiest man in the world.”
Kiryat Shmona is a working-class city of 23,000 people that has been plagued by financial woes and is less than two miles from the Lebanese border, thus primarily being known domestically as a frequent target of Hezbollah rocket fire.
Hapoel Ironi is now only two qualifying rounds away from playing in next season’s Champions League and potentially playing against Barcelona, Manchester United or Bayern Munich.
Much of the credit for Kiryat Shmona’s success belongs to wealthy owner Izzy Sheratzky, who made his money in Global Positioning System devices that help track stolen cars. He founded the club 10 years ago.
The current squad is Solari primarily made up of homegrown Israeli players and includes six Israeli Arabs. Serbian defender Dusan Matovic and Argentine striker David Solari, the brother of former Real Madrid midfielder Santiago Solari, are among the few foreigners.
Another standout has been Israeli forward Abuhatzeira, who has 14 goals this season, while captain Adrian Rochet has anchored the midfield.