Ironi Kiryat Shmona won the State Cup for the first time in club history on Wednesday night, adding the cup to the historic Premier League championship it claimed two seasons ago with a 1-0 victory over Maccabi Netanya after extra-time at National Stadium in Ramat Gan.
Kiryat Shmona exorcised the ghosts of last season’s final when it suffered a shock defeat to Hapoel Ramat Gan, with Ahmed Abed scoring the winner in the 97th minute.
Kiryat Shmona was in complete control throughout the final, but couldn’t find a way past Netanya’s defense until Abed found the back of the net in the seventh minute of extra-time.
“I already began to think back to what happened last season,” admitted Kiryat Shmona coach Barak Bachar. “We were favorites and that wasn’t easy. This was the longest day of my life. I love my players so much and I told them before the match that they had enjoyed a great season regardless of what happened in the final.”
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 topthree finish this season and officially clinched a place in the Europa League in 2014/15 with Wednesday’s triumph.
Kiryat Shmona also 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.
Netanya, which comfortably won the National League title this year, was hoping to win the cup for the second time in club history and the first since 1978, with its last championship coming back in the 1982/83 campaign.
“This hurts,” said Netanya coach Yossi Mizrahi. “Only one team can win the cup and they played better tonight. They deserve all the credit but we are very disappointed.
However, I have no complaints as the players gave their all.”
Kiryat Shmona dominated the possession from the start of the match, but it struggled to break down Netanya’s defensive formation.
The Northerners lacked cutting edge in the final third of the pitch and it was Netanya which almost netted the opener against the run of play in the 43rd minute.
Olarenwaju Kayode found himself with only goalkeeper Guy Haimov to beat thanks to Eran Levy’s perfectly timed through ball, but the Nigerian forward attempted a pretentious chip which sailed wide of the Kiryat Shmona goal.
Kiryat Shmona registered its best chance of the first 45 minutes with the final play of the half when Mindaugas Panka’s header got the better of ‘keeper Ohad Levita but flew wide of the upright.
Kiryat Shmona remained in control after the break, but scoring opportunities were yet again at a premium. Neither side managed to create a clear-cut chance and the final went into extra time.
After toiling unsuccessfully for 90 minutes, it took Kiryat Shmona less than seven extra time minutes to break the deadlock.
Abed received the ball on the edge of the box and found the bottom right corner with an accurate right-footed effort.
Kiryat Shmona should have wrapped up the victory in the 106th minute, but Weeam Amasha fired straight at Levita from close range before Abed somehow sent the rebound wide with the net at his mercy.
Despite the support of around 19,000 fans, Netanya couldn’t muster any sort of comeback and Kiryat Shmona celebrated yet another memorable triumph.
Ahead of the final, 300 Jewish and Arab teenagers circled the National Stadium holding hands and wearing t-shirts denouncing racism and violence. The initiative is part of the New Israel Fund’s Kick it Out anti-racism program and the Ministry of Public Security’s City Without Violence project.
The teenagers will take part in a youth tournament in Taibe on Thursday.