The floundering Beitar Jerusalem resurrected its season against all odds on Wednesday night, advancing to the State Cup quarterfinals with a stunning 2-0 upset victory over rampant Premier League leader Maccabi Tel Aviv at Bloomfield Stadium.
Beitar has picked up only a single point over its past five league matches, with the turmoil that followed the signing of Dzhabrail Kadiyev and Zaur Sadayev from Chechen club Terek Grozny completely derailing its campaign.
However, Jerusalem finally returned to play with the urgency and desire that had characterized the team for most of the season on Wednesday, claiming a deserved victory over the yellow-and-blue, which holds an eight-point gap at the top of the league standings.
“If I could explain what had happened to us over the past month I would have changed it,” said Beitar coach Eli Cohen, who handed Sadayev his first start for the team. “This match will change the momentum and we will also get back on track in the league. The players put on a show and played for their honor.”
Hen Azriel scored the opener from the penalty spot in the 31st minute after being brought down in the box by defender Omer Vered and Maccabi rarely threatened Ariel Harush’s goal in the first half.
The hosts showed some improvement after the break, but Dominik Glavina secured the win in the second minute of stoppage time, with unused substitute Kadiyev being sent off after throwing a bottle at Maccabi fans during the celebrations.
Also Wednesday, Maccabi Haifa beat Hapoel Haifa 2-1 and Bnei Sakhnin defeated Bnei Lod 3-2, joining Beitar, as well as third-division Asi Gilboa, Hapoel Rishon Lezion of the National League, Ironi Kiryat Shmona, Hapoel Ramat Gan and three-time defending cup holder Hapoel Tel Aviv in Thursday’s quarterfinal draw.
With 12 wins in its past 14 matches, Maccabi Haifa entered Wednesday’s derby as a firm favorite.
However, its mediocre display almost cost it dearly.
The Greens had little to offer in the first half, but still led at the break, with Hapoel goalkeeper Tvrtko Kale gifting the hosts the opener, spilling Hen Ezra’s shot right into the path of Alon Turgeman.
Hapoel had to abandon its cagey formation in the second half, and after missing several golden opportunities, Dino Ndlovu netted Maccabi’s second goal in the 89th minute.
Gal Arel got a goal back for Hapoel from the penalty spot two minutes into stoppage time and the visitors very nearly sent the encounter into extra-time, with Maccabi defender Eyal Meshumar clearing the ball off the line with the final kick of the match.
“We were the better team and we accomplished our goal of advancing,” said Maccabi coach Arik Benado, who has got another derby to look forward to next Monday, this time in the league.
“We could have played better, but we completed the mission. We don’t have long to enjoy this win because we will also face a very tough time against Hapoel on Monday.”
Earlier Wednesday, Bnei Sakhnin’s Mohammed Kalibat (21) gave the visitors the lead over Lod and the top-flight team looked to be cruising after Khaled Khalaila (50) doubled Sakhnin’s advantage.
However, Kwabena Agouda gave Lod a lifeline just a minute later, only for Diya Saba to clinch Sakhnin’s win six minutes from the final whistle, with Nevo Mizrahi netting another consolation goal deep into stoppage time.