Maccabi Tel Aviv striker Barak Itzhaki (10) celebrates with his teammates.
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
An acrobatic Barak Itzhaki volley against his boyhood club spared Maccabi Tel Aviv’s blushes and secured its progress to the quarterfinals of the State Cup for the first time in 10 years on Tuesday night.
Maccabi struggled to break down Ashkelon’s defense until Itzhaki netted the winner in the 84th minute to give the yellow- and-blue a 1-0 victory over third-division Hapoel Ashkelon at Bloomfield Stadium.
Ashkelon had recorded the upset of the season to date by knocking out Beitar Jerusalem in the round-of-32 and had its chances on Tuesday.
However, the Premier League leader survived the scare and kept alive its hopes of winning a first cup since 2005 and claiming an unprecedented treble after already lifting the Toto Cup earlier this season.
Also Tuesday, Maccabi Petah Tikva advanced to the quarters with a 1-0 win over Hapoel Petah Tikva thanks to Idan Shemesh’s 90th-minute winner.
The tight encounter looked to be heading to extra-time before Shemesh picked up the ball on the edge of the area and found the bottom left corner with an accurate effort.
Three more quarterfinalists will be decided on Wednesday, with Maccabi Haifa hosting Ironi Kiryat Shmona in what is on paper the tie of the round.
Haifa finally snapped a fivematch league winless streak with a 1-0 win over Hapoel Beersheba on Saturday, giving new coach Marco Balbul his first victory in his fourth game at the helm.
However, the Greens can’t seem to get a break this season, with new striker Eliran Atar being ruled out for at least one week with an eye injury on Tuesday after being hit in the face by the ball.
After more than three months in first place, Kiryat Shmona was leapfrogged by Maccabi Tel Aviv over the weekend following its 1-1 draw with Bnei Sakhnin.
Kiryat Shmona won its first cup in club history last season and is aiming to reach a third straight final, while Haifa is hoping to lift its first cup since 1998.
After falling eight points behind Maccabi Tel Aviv in first place, Hapoel Beersheba’s best hope of claiming silverware this season looks to be in the cup.
Beersheba, which has won just one of its past four league matches, visits in-form Hapoel Ra’anana on Wednesday, with the hosts winning three straight games since coach Haim Silvas was fired and then rehired.
“I hope we play better than we have recently,” said Beersheba coach Elisha Levy.
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.
“I’m happy to be back at Hapoel,” said Cohen on Tuesday.
“It won’t be simple, but I hope we can overcome all our problems, starting with the match against Kfar Saba.”
On Thursday, Maccabi Yavne (National League) plays Shikun Hamizrach (third division), Hapoel Afula (NL) faces Ma’alot-Tarshiha (III) and Ashdod SC visits Ahi Nazareth (NL).