(photo credit: INIMAGE)
Bnei Yehuda advanced to its first State Cup final since 2010 on Tuesday night, beating Hapoel Ramat Gan of the National League 1-0 in Netanya.
Yonatan Cohen’s goal in the 22nd minute was enough for Bnei Yehuda to move within a single win of a first cup triumph since 1981. Liran Cohen reached Ramat Gan’s best chance in the 76th minute, but he fluffed his volley from close range and the second division side’s hopes were extinguished following Israel Rosh’s sending off two minutes from time.
“The players deserve all the credit and now we need to focus on avoiding relegation before we think of the cup final,” said Bnei Yehuda coach Nissan Yehezkel.
The second finalist will be decided in Wednesday’s semifinal in Haifa between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Beitar Jerusalem.
After seeing its Premier League title challenge suffer a significant blow with a 1-0 defeat at leader Hapoel Beersheba on Saturday, Maccabi Tel Aviv is hoping to bounce back by reaching a third straight cup final.
The yellow-and-blue lost to Maccabi Haifa in last year’s final after beating Beersheba in the title game the previous season.
Maccabi fell six points behind Beersheba with eight matches remaining in the campaign on Saturday, and while it refuses to throw in the white towel in the title race, the yellow-and-blue is well aware that its best chance of picking up silverware this season is in the cup.
Tel Aviv survived a penalty shootout against Hapoel Ra’anana in the last 16 before claiming a 3-1 aggregate win over Maccabi Petah Tikva in the quarters.
“The loss against Beersheba has no connection with the State Cup and we have to be aggressive and make sure we take advantage of our opportunities,” said Maccabi captain Sheran Yeini.
One of the main talking points from Saturday’s showdown in Beersheba was the active role played on the bench by sports director Jordi Cruyff. The Dutchman, who successfully guided the team for over a month following the sacking of Shota Arveladze, didn’t return to the stands after the hiring of Lito Vidigal, and was more active than ever in the game against Beersheba, raising questions regarding who calls the shots at the club.
“If I had any doubts about my job I would discuss it but that’s not the case,” said Vidigal. “Everyone knows who makes the decisions and I take them both in victory and defeat. I know my position and as does everyone else. Jordi can do what he wants. When he decides not to be on the bench then he won’t be.”
Yeini echoed a similar sentiment.
“Everything is fine between the coach and the sports director. They work together and Maccabi Tel Aviv is a club that works together as a team, but the coach is who is responsible for the team on the pitch,” he added. “We all want to win the cup as does Beitar and we will do our best to take it home.”
Beitar hasn’t played in the cup final since it last won the trophy in 2009 and has a special incentive this season, with the final to be held at Teddy Stadium in the capital.
Beitar has lost three of its past four league games, losing important ground in the battle for third place and qualification for the Europa League. But ever since it advanced to the semis its focus over recent weeks has been on reaching Europe by lifting the cup.
“Whoever wins the semi will also be the favorite in the final, but that doesn’t guarantee it the title,” said Beitar coach Sharon Mimer.
“We have the ability, the belief and the confidence,” added Beitar captain Dan Einbinder.