(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Hapoel Tel Aviv took another significant step towards a second consecutive State Cup Tuesday night. However, the biggest story of the quarterfinals unfolded in Ramat Gan, where third division Hapoel stunned three-time reigning Premier League champion Maccabi Haifa 1-0 after extra time.
Kobi Hasan's 115th minute goal was enough for Hapoel Ramat Gan to book a spot in the semifinals and keep alive the dream of repeating its 2003 Cup-winning campaign.
Tel Aviv defeated 2004 Cup-winner Bnei Sakhnin 3-0 at Bloomfield Stadium by scoring all three goals in the second half.
Ramat Gan and Tel Aviv were joined in the semis by Ashdod SC, which crushed Maccabi Petah Tikva 4-0, and by National League club Hapoel Ashkelon, 2-0 victors over Hapoel Haifa.
Tel Aviv got off to the better start at Bloomfield and almost took the lead as early as the fifth minute. Midfielder Luciano De Bruno hit a powerful volley from 20 meters out that was easily saved by Sakhnin 'keeper Meir Cohen.
The visitors created their first chance of the match three minutes later when Ohad Kadusi was just beaten to the ball by Tel Aviv 'keeper Neil Abarbanel, who cleared the danger.
Abarbanel, standing in for Shavit Elimelech who was suspended by Hapoel until the end of the season Sunday after a dispute with the club's owners, looked comfortable in his debut and did well on the big occasion.
As the half progressed, both teams struggled to create any real scoring opportunities and the crowd was subjected to some dreary play.
Tel Aviv did, however, create one more chance before halftime, but Salim Toama's accurate free kick from the edge of the penalty area was well saved by Cohen.
Hapoel Tel Aviv went in search of the lead as soon as the second half began and broke the deadlock less than two minutes after the break.
Sakhnin's defense failed to clear the ball and Toama beat Cohen from the edge of the box with a lethal, left-footed shot.
Eleven minutes later, Hapoel was denied its second goal by the woodwork when Elyaniv Barda's header got the better of everyone but was kept out by the right goalpost.
In the 64th minute, Gili Vermot did all the hard work and set up Toama beautifully, but the midfielder squandered a golden opportunity and struck his shot from just inside the box wide of goal.
Barda was the next to come close to doubling the lead when, 78 minutes into the match, he wriggled his way past most of Sakhnin's defense only to eventually blast his shot from five meters out straight at a Sakhnin defender.
However, four minutes later, Barda made no mistake and settled the match. The striker broke free and slotted the ball past a helpless Cohen.
Two more minutes passed and Sakhnin found itself three goals down. Excellent build up play by Vermot found a free Barda, who was on target with a header for his second goal of the evening.
In Ramat Gan, scoring opportunities were at a premium in the first half and the best chance of the first 45 minutes was created by Haifa two minutes from the interval.
Roberto Colautti's shot was making its way into goal, but a goal-line clearance by the Hapoel defense kept Haifa scoreless.
The second half was no better than the first and the clubs had to play another 30 minutes to decide the match.
Five minutes before the tie went into a penalty shootout, Ramat Gan scored its sensational winner. Hasan was left all alone in the Haifa box and easily slotted in the winner to book his team a place in the last four.