The State Cup final hadn’t even ended yet, but Maccabi Tel Aviv fans had already turned their focus to Sunday.
The derby result may end up not meaning all that much by the end of the regular season, but that makes Maccabi supporters no less desperate to defeat arch-rival Hapoel Tel Aviv in Sunday’s BSL action.
Hapoel’s defeat to Hapoel Eilat in the cup semifinals on Monday prevented a first Tel Aviv derby in the cup final for 20 years. Maccabi went on to lift its fifth straight cup and 41st in club history by overcoming the southerners 80-73 on Thursday.
Hapoel beat Maccabi 78-66 at Hadar Yosef Arena when the teams met for the first time this season three months ago, but enters Sunday’s showdown still reeling from its semifinal defeat and without two of its key players.
After missing three weeks of action due to a shoulder injury, Hapoel’s star scorer Limonad returned for the cup semis, only to shoot just 2-of-10 from the field and finish the game with more turnovers (6) than points (4). To make matters worse, he also aggravated his injury and will be rested until he regains full fitness.
Hapoel will also have to do without the services of influential captain Matan Naor, who is set to miss the next three weeks of action after injuring his knee against Eilat.
Hapoel (11-6) surged up the standings and reached the last four of the cup by winning eight straight games over all competitions throughout December and in the beginning of January.
However, it has since lost three of five games, including in the cup semis, and will be far from confident on Sunday when it comes up against Maccabi without starters Limonad and Naor.
Maccabi (13-4) has won eight straight BSL games and 19 of its past 20 contests over all competitions, but a victory on Sunday would be especially sweet.
Maccabi still trails Hapoel Jerusalem (14-3) by a game, with the league-leader aiming to record its 12th consecutive BSL triumph when it visits Hapoel Gilboa/Galil (7-10) on Sunday.
Also Sunday, Hapoel Holon (8-9) hosts Maccabi Haifa (11-6) and Ironi Ness Ziona (9-8) faces Barak Netanya (7-10). On Monday, Eilat (9-8) hosts Bnei Herzliya (5-12) and Maccabi Ashdod (3-14) visits Maccabi Rishon Lezion (5-12).