Beitar Jerusalem striker Gaetan Varenne fires his team into the lead in a 2-0 victory at Hapoel Kfar Saba in the first leg of the State Cup quarterfinals..
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
While it has won back-to-back Premier League titles to become the new standard- bearer in Israeli soccer, the State Cup has continued to elude Hapoel Beersheba.
The reigning champion’s one and only cup triumph came in 1997 under coach Eli Gutman, with Beersheba reaching the final twice since.
Beersheba was stunned by Hapoel Ramat Gan of the National League in the final in 2003 and still carries the scars from the unprecedented 6-2 defeat to Maccabi Tel Aviv in the title match three years ago.
Beersheba was knocked out by Maccabi Haifa in the semifinals the subsequent season and is targeting a place in the last four for the third time in four years when it visits Ironi Kiryat Shmona on Wednesday in the second leg of their quarterfinal tie.
Beersheba still has plenty of work to do after the first leg at Turner Stadium ended in a 1-1 draw. Beersheba was knocked out by Kiryat Shmona in the round-of-16 last season. That 2-1 loss in January 2017 remains Beersheba’s only defeat at Turner in Premier League or State Cup action since the reigning champion entered its new home early in the 2015/16 season.
Kiryat Shmona was on course for another upset after dominating the first half of the first leg three weeks ago and taking the lead through Dutch striker Nigel Hasselbaink’s 31st-minute opener. But Beersheba moved up a gear in the second half and at least managed to avoid defeat thanks to Maor Melikson’s 70th-minute equalizer.
Beersheba is hoping to end February on a high after struggling for consistency over the past month. Hapoel began the month with a 1-0 loss to Maccabi Tel Aviv which saw it relinquish first place in the league standings and then followed it up with the draw against Kiryat Shmona. It bounced back with league victories over Ashdod SC and Maccabi Petah Tikva, but was lucky to get away with a 1-1 draw against Beitar Jerusalem at Turner on Sunday, which left it in second place, trailing Maccabi on goals scored.
Beersheba’s squad has been ravaged by injuries and suspensions, with defender Matan Ohayon the latest to join the list after being ruled out for 4-to-6 weeks with a hip injury suffered in the stalemate against Beitar.
But Beersheba will at least welcome back Nigerian midfielder John Ogu on Wednesday after he finished serving his four-match suspension, with influential defender Miguel Vitor, who has only played in four league matches this season, also on the verge of making a return.
Elsewhere Wednesday, Beitar shouldn’t encounter much trouble on its way to the semifinals when it hosts Hapoel Kfar Saba of the National League after winning their first leg 2-0.
The first cup semifinalist was decided on Tuesday when Hapoel Ra’anana hosted Ashdod after their first leg ended in a 1-1 draw.
The fourth and final semifinalist will be determined on Thursday when Hapoel Haifa hosts Maccabi Haifa after their first leg ended in a 2-2 tie.
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