After last season’s shock defeat in the State Cup final, Ironi Kiryat Shmona looks to make amends when it faces Maccabi Netanya in this year’s final at National Stadium in Ramat Gan on Wednesday night.
Kiryat Shmona suffered a surprise defeat to Hapoel Ramat Gan in last year’s final, losing in a penalty shootout to a team that had just been relegated to the National League after extra time ended in a 1-1 draw.
Netanya is hoping to become just the second team ever to claim the cup while playing in the National League.
Hapoel Ramat Gan is the only side to do so to date in 2003.
However, Netanya has dominated the second division this season, securing its promotion to the Premier League last month with six matches to spare.
Kiryat Shmona won’t be taking Netanya lightly and is desperate to avoid another upset and take another step towards cementing its place as one of Israel’s top clubs.
Since returning to the top flight in 2010, Kiryat Shmona has finished no lower than fifth place in four seasons, memorably winning the championship in the 2011/12 campaign. Kiryat Shmona has already effectively secured itself a top-three finish this season and a place in the Europa League in 2014/15, but hopes to turn an excellent season into an unforgettable one by claiming its first ever cup and just its second title in club history.
“This is the second straight time we are in the final and while we know we are facing a difficult match we believe in ourselves,” said Kiryat Shmona coach Barak Bachar. “We were ready for last season’s final, but in a match like this the gaps between the teams naturally narrow. We really respect Netanya. In my eyes they are a Premier League team. We are not expecting an easy match, but we do feel that we control our fate.”
Kiryat Shmona currently owns the longest unbeaten streak in the league, defeating Bnei Sakhnin 2-0 on Saturday to close to within three points of second- place Hapoel Beersheba, extending its run without defeat to 14 matches.
Kiryat Shmona’s last loss came more than three months ago, with Bachar’s team also overcoming a tough road to reach the cup final. Kiryat Shmona beat Premier League teams in all four rounds, defeating Hapoel Acre, Hapoel Haifa and Beitar Jerusalem by a combined goal difference of 8-0 before knocking out Beersheba with a 2-1 win in the semifinals.
Netanya has won the cup only once in its history back in 1978 and hasn’t taken a title since claiming the championship in the 1982/83 campaign. It beat two top-flight sides in the past two rounds, but it has yet to face a real quality team in the cup, with no one really being surprised by its victories over the struggling Hapoel Ramat Hasharon and Maccabi Petah Tikva.
Wednesday’s final will also see the Premier League’s youngest coach, the 34-year-old Bachar, come up against one of local soccer’s most experienced men, Netanya’s 61-year-old coach Yossi Mizrahi.
After leading Beitar to the championship in 2006/07 and spending a year in Cyprus before guiding Ashdod SC for two seasons, Mizrahi chose to take a step back and coach in the National League when Netanya came calling.
He has enjoyed every moment at the club, signing a three-year contract extension last month, and is hoping to cap his, and Netanya’s, comeback season with a cup triumph.
“Had someone told me at the start of the season that I would be guiding Netanya in the cup final at the end of it I would have probably laughed,” said Mizrahi. “I think we are facing the team in the best form in Israel. But you always must believe in yourself and we are entering the final with the aim of winning it.”
On TV: State Cup Final: Ironi Kiryat Shmona vs Maccabi Netanya (live on Sport 5 at 8 p.m.)