AARON SCHOENFELD (front) and Maccabi Tel Aviv face a tough test on Saturday in the eighth round of the State Cup when they duel with fellow Premier League club Beitar Jerusalem at Teddy Stadium in the capital.
(photo credit: DOV HALICKMAN PHOTOGRAPHY/COURTESY)
Many countries have Cup competitions, with the most famous of which being the FA Cup in England, and of course Israel is no different as the 65th Israel State Cup competition enters the eighth round of action this weekend.
The State Cup is traditionally a knock-out style tournament that affords the opportunity for any soccer team playing in any league across the country the chance to match up against teams from other divisions in an attempt to take home the coveted trophy.
Going from round to round, teams are matched up against one another and the further along a team gets the harder the competition becomes. In most cases, the top division teams get a bye into the later rounds where most of the smaller teams or “minnows” have already been eliminated.
This is the case coming into this weekend, where 14 Premier League teams enter the picture and join 13 second division, four third division and one fourth division club. It’s always a delight for the fans and supporters of the smaller teams when they have the opportunity to play the larger clubs.
Although in its current format, the Israel State Cup is only 65 years old, the tournament began well before the establishment of the state way back in 1922 when an unofficial Cup tournament was held. The first winners were South Lancashire Regiment, which was a line infantry regiment of the British Army based in Haifa.
Royal Air Force Ramla won the second edition while Royal Air Force Palestine captured the next four cups in a row.
Parallel to this tournament was the Magen Shimshon competition, which pitted Maccabi clubs throughout the country. Maccabi Tel Aviv won their first two cups during those years before the two tournaments unified to become “The People’s Cup” when the Eretz Israel Football Association was founded in August 1928.
The first trophy was shared by Hapoel Tel Aviv and Maccabi Hasmonean Jerusalem after it was discovered that an ineligible player had been fielded by Hapoel. The cup was shared by the two clubs, spending the first six months in Tel Aviv followed by half a year in Jerusalem.
The 1932 cup was awarded to the British Police in Jerusalem when the game was abandoned by Hapoel Haifa as its players walked off the pitch in protest to a penalty kick that was awarded to the British Police. In fact, Haifa was actually ahead 1-0 when the incident occurred.
Just prior to the first Israel State Cup in 1948, the 1947 edition of the tournament saw Maccabi Tel Aviv win the cup, but it was actually never able to take it physically home. With Maccabi leading Beitar Tel Aviv 3-2, a third Beitar goal was disallowed by the referee with two minutes left in the contest. The pitch was invaded and during all of the confusion Beitar player Yom-Tov Mensharov stole the cup and escaped the stadium with it.
Mensharov lost the trophy and Maccabi was awarded a 3-0 victory, but to date the trophy has never been found.
Unlike many of the world’s Cup competitions, Israel has seen a number of underdogs win the title in recent history. In 2004, Bnei Sakhnin garnered headlines around the globe as it became the first team from an Arab Israeli city to win the trophy. A year after being promoted to the first division on the last day of the season, Sakhnin hoisted the cup at Ramat Gan Stadium, defeating second-division side Hapoel Haifa.
The year before Sakhin’s victory saw Israel’s first second-division squad – Hapoel Ramat Gan – win the cup, and while three more second-tier sides have featured in the final none have been able to put their name on the trophy.
Last season, FC Bnei M.M.B.E. HaGolan VeHaGalil, a lower division team based in the Druze villages of Mas’ade, Majdal Shams, Buq’ata and Ein Qiniyye in the Golan Heights traveled to kick off against Maccabi Tel Aviv at the Netanya Stadium in the eight round and played admirably. Bnei M.M.B.E. kept the contest goalless all the way until the 70th minute, when Barak Itzhaki finally broke the ice and led Maccabi to a 3-0 win.
With thousands of Druze fans in the stands it was a true soccer celebration for all involved.
This weekend there are a number of delicious matchups on tap from fourth-division FC Duburiyya facing Maccabi Netanya, to second-division promotion candidate Hapoel Katamon taking on first-division relegation candidate Hapoel Tel Aviv, as well as a top-division clash between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Beitar Jerusalem.
There’s great soccer being played around the country and fans throughout the land will have the opportunity to see the next “Cinderella” team and a number of great storylines play out. Who knows? – maybe you’ll be able to see a bit of history. So head out to a stadium near you, because in the State Cup anything is possible.
Joshua Halickman, the Sports Rabbi, covers Israeli sports and organizes Israel Sports Adventures for tourists and residents. Follow the Sports Rabbi on Twitter @thesportsrabbi or visit www.sportsrabbi.com. Contact the Sports Rabbi via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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