A number of intriguing duels on tap in State Cup last-16

Maccabi coach Pako Ayestaran gave his players a day off on Monday, raising questions of whether he is taking Ashkelon too lightly.

January 27, 2015 06:31
3 minute read.
Maccabi Tel Aviv

Maccabi Tel Aviv’s coach Pako Ayestaran . (photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)

After recording the upset of the season to date, Hapoel Ashkelon aims to go one better and register one of the biggest surprises in State Cup history on Tuesday night when it visits Premier League leader Maccabi Tel Aviv at Bloomfield Stadium.

Ashkelon stunned Beitar Jerusalem in the round-of-32 two weeks ago, claiming a 3-1 win in a penalty shootout after a thrilling 120 minutes ended in a 3-3 draw, with the score tied at 2-2 after 90 minutes.

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Ashkelon is on course to gain promotion to the National League, currently holding a 14-point gap at the top of the southern region of the third division after going unbeaten in its first 17 matches, winning 14 of them.

With former Beitar Jerusalem coach Yuval Naim at the helm and the likes of Premier League veterans Baruch Dego, Lior Asulin, Eliran Danin and Shay Revivo in the squad, Ashkelon is far from a typical third division side.

However, Ashkelon will still enter Tuesday’s contest as a firm underdog, something Naim is well aware of.

“The outcome of the match depends on Maccabi Tel Aviv a lot more than it does on us,” he said. “We need to play our game, but we will be facing the best team in the country at their stadium.

There are very big gaps between the teams. We have achieved amazing things in the league and the cup so far this season, but we were unlucky in the draw.

“If we had drawn even Hapoel Tel Aviv or Maccabi Haifa at home we would have been able to dream. Nevertheless, you don’t get many opportunities like this when you can just enjoy yourself knowing any result but a defeat would be a massive surprise.”

Maccabi coach Pako Ayestaran gave his players a day off on Monday, raising questions of whether he is taking Ashkelon too lightly.

However, the Spaniard insisted that he prepared for league matches in a similar fashion several times this season and that the decision of whether to train the day prior to a match depends on the physiological condition of the players.

Pako used a second-string lineup against Beitar Tel Aviv/Ramle of the National League in the round-of-32, but the yellow-and-blue’s bench players had little trouble claiming a 4-1 victory in Ramle.

He is expected to give many of his fringe players another chance to make their mark on Tuesday, although he was adamant that he is not underestimating Ashkelon, with Maccabi not making it past the round-of-16 in nine years.

“We sent scouts to their match over the weekend and this is a very good team,” Pako said. “They caused Beitar many difficulties and we need to give them a lot of respect. If we don’t enter the match with the right mental attitude and display top form we will be in trouble. But if we do our job we should win.”

Also Tuesday, Maccabi Petah Tikva hosts Hapoel Petah Tikva in what is always a hotly contested derby affair.

The round-of-16 will continue on Wednesday, including the two other all-Premier League showdowns. Maccabi Haifa will host Ironi Kiryat Shmona, while Hapoel Ra’anana welcomes Hapoel Beersheba.

Also Wednesday, new Hapoel Tel Aviv coach Eli Cohen will guide the team for the first time when it faces Hapoel Kfar Saba of the National League.

There will be at least two teams from outside the Premier League in the quarterfinals, with Maccabi Yavne (National League) to play Shikun Hamizrach on Thursday (II) while Hapoel Afula (NL) will face Ma’alot-Tarshiha (II). Also Thursday, Ashdod SC visits Ahi Nazareth (NL).

Netanya beats Beitar to tie for 4th
Meanwhile, in Premier League action on Monday, Maccabi Netanya defeated Beitar Jerusalem 2-0.

Netanya recorded its second straight win under new coach Roni Levy, with Ran Roll scoring the opener in the 41st minute, before Beitar’s Itzik Cohen was sent off four minutes into the second half after pushing Eyad Abu Abaid.

Eran Levy wrapped up the win nine minutes from time, moving Netanya tied with fourth-place Beitar as well as three other teams.

A number of intriguing duels on tap in State Cup last-16 standings

Monday’s results: Premier League: Maccabi Netanya 2, Beitar Jerusalem 0.

Tuesday on TV: State Cup Last-16: Maccabi Petah Tikva vs Hapoel Petah Tikva (live on Sport5+Live at 7 p.m.); Maccabi Tel Aviv vs Hapoel Ashkelon (live on Sport5+Live at 9 p.m.)

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