Shimon Abu Hazeira.
(photo credit: ERAN LUF)
Shimon Abu Hazeira’s equalizer with the final kick of the match gave Ironi Kiryat Shmona a 1-1 draw against Maccabi Tel Aviv in the first leg of the State Cup quarterfinals on Wednesday night, significantly boosting the cup-holder’s chances of retaining the title.
Maccabi seemed set to take a 1-0 lead into the second leg at Bloomfield Stadium next Wednesday, with Eran Zahavi opening the scoring in the 44th minute. However, Kiryat Shmona fully deserved to level the score in the third minute of stoppage time and coach Barak Bachar sounded extremely confident of his team’s chances in the return leg, despite conceding what could prove to be a crucial away goal.
“We proved we are just as good as them,” said Bachar. “This match gives us a lot of confidence ahead of the second leg and also for the rest of our Premier League campaign.”
Maccabi currently holds a one-point gap over Kiryat Shmona at the summit of the league standings.
The three remaining semifinalists will also be decided next Wednesday.
Hapoel Beersheba is expected to cruise into the last four, taking a 3-0 lead over Maccabi Yavne of the National League into the second leg at Vasermil Stadium.
Maccabi Petah Tikva hosts second division Hapoel Afula after a 0-0 draw in the first leg, while the all-National League showdown between Hapoel Kfar Saba and Ahi Nazareth is tied at 1-1 entering the return leg in Nazareth.
Israel’s top two teams entered their showdown on Wednesday on the back of their worst run of results this season.
For the first time in more than three years, Maccabi has gone three consecutive league matches without a win after suffering a shock 2-0 defeat to Hapoel Haifa at Sammy Ofer Stadium on Saturday.
Kiryat Shmona, which claimed the cup for the first time in club history last season, could only manage a 1-1 draw at home against Hapoel Ra’anana, leaving it with a single win from its past five games.
It was Kiryat Shmona which got off to the better start on Wednesday, but Zahavi broke out of his recent slump to give Maccabi the lead. The midfielder beat goalkeeper Guy Haimov from close range one minute from the break after a swift exchange of passes between Maharan Radi, Barak Badash and Zahavi.
After a remarkable 2014 in which he scored 35 league goals, Zahavi got 2015 off to a mediocre start by his standards.
Following 17 consecutive league matches in which he netted 25 goals, Zahavi had scored just three goals in eight matches over all competitions in 2015 until Wednesday, two of them from the penalty spot.
Maccabi couldn’t build on Zahavi’s goal though, with Kiryat Shmona continuing to control the possession until finally Abu Hazeira popped up in stoppage time to set up a mouthwatering second leg with a clinical finish.