Yellow-and-blue, Greens to vie for Toto Cup

December 18, 2014 07:06
2 minute read.

Maccabi Tel Aviv forward Tal Ben- Haim netted his team’s winner in last night’s 1-0 victory over Hapoel Haifa in the Toto Cup semifinals.. (photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)

Maccabi Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa will meet in the final of the Toto Cup in two weeks after safely coming through the semifinals on Wednesday.

Both winners made numerous changes to their lineups, with Maccabi Tel Aviv struggling without star midfielder Eran Zahavi, eking out a 1-0 win over Hapoel Haifa in Petah Tikva.

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Maccabi Haifa had far less trouble overcoming Ashdod SC 3-1 in Netanya.

“If we play like today we haven’t got a chance in the final,” said Tel Aviv coach Pako Ayestaran. “We were lucky today. We deserved to concede in the second half.”

Despite making eight changes to the lineup that beat Hapoel Petah Tikva on Saturday, Ayestaran’s side required just 12 minutes to move in front.

Tal Ben-Haim took advantage of Haifa’s shambolic defending to slot in the opener. However, Maccabi squandered its chances to quickly double the lead and Haifa should have really leveled the score in the 30th minute.

Canadian striker Tosaint Ricketts somehow could only hit the crossbar from five meters out with ’keeper Barak Levy already beaten.

Haifa also had its chances to equalize in the second half, with Maharan Lala coming centimeters away from scoring four minutes from time when his shot from 20 meters out beat ’keeper Levy, only to be denied by the crossbar.

The highlight of the match for Maccabi fans arrived in the 87th minute when striker Barak Itzhaki came on as a substitute and returned from a 10-month absence. He didn’t have an opportunity to score, but the yellowand- blue still held on to advance.

In the first semi of the day, Haifa coach Aleksandar Stanojevic made nine changes to the lineup that beat Hapoel Haifa 4-0 in the derby on Sunday, but the Greens still got off to a flying start.

After falling out of favor with Stanojevic, Ruben Rayos was handed another chance on Wednesday and he took just three minutes to make his presence felt, netting the opener from close range.

Haifa doubled its lead in the 19th minute, with Hen Ezra doing all the hard work to set up Rayos and then scoring from the rebound after the Spaniard’s shot was saved by goalkeeper Ofir Martziano.

Haifa secured its progress in the 59th minute after Alon Turgeman’s accurate finish from the edge of the box made it 3-0 and Murad Abu Anza’s 90th-minute goal was of little consolation for Ashdod.

“We had many chances and the players were very focused,” said a pleased Stanojevic. “I’m very happy that the players did everything today to show that they deserve to be in the team. We are in the final and that is very important to us.”

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