Beitar, Hapoel Haifa eke out semifinal wins

State Cup final set as Jerusalem rallies from deficit against K8, First match goes to penalties

April 1, 2018 23:50
2 minute read.
Hapoel Haifa goalkeeper Ernestas Setkus celebrates after saving three penalties

Hapoel Haifa goalkeeper Ernestas Setkus celebrates after saving three penalties during his team’s 4-3 shootout win over Hapoel Ra’anana in last night’s State Cup semifinal in Haifa. (photo credit: ERAN LUF)

Beitar Jerusalem and Hapoel Haifa will meet in the State Cup final at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem on May 9 after continuing their dream seasons with semifinal triumphs in Haifa on Sunday night.

Beitar came back from behind to defeat Ironi Kiryat Shmona 3-2 after Hapoel Haifa beat Hapoel Ra’anana 4-3 in a penalty shootout, with extra time ending at 0-0.

Mohammad Shaker gave Kiryat Shmona a 30th-minute lead in the second semi, but Jakub Sylvestr netted a brace (53, 79) to complete Beitar’s comeback before Erik Sabo secured the ticket to the final with a penalty in the 88th minute.

Both Beitar and Haifa remained on track for a stunning Premier League and State Cup double.

Few experts predicted Beitar would be among the main contenders for the championship and the cup so late in the season, especially with off-field distractions disrupting its campaign even before day one, with head coach Sharon Mimer being sacked four days before the start of league play.

But Beitar is currently just a single point behind leader Hapoel Beersheba with nine matches to play ahead of their showdown at Turner Stadium on Wednesday.

Before turning its focus to league action, Jerusalem advanced to its 11th cup final in club history and is still on course for a seventh cup triumph. Beitar was last part of the final in 2009 when it also lifted the trophy.

Hapoel Haifa added another unforgettable chapter to its remarkable season on Sunday, advancing to its first State Cup final in 14 years.

Haifa has won the cup three times in its history, but not since 1974, losing to Bnei Sakhnin in its last visit to the final in 2004.

Haifa was on its back foot for much of the first semi, with Ra’anana dictating the pace and reaching the better chances. But Menahem Koretzki’s side couldn’t get past goalkeeper Ernestas Setkus in the first 90 minutes or extra time and a dramatic shootout would follow.

Haifa was on the brink of a disappointing exit, with Shimon Abuhazira having the chance to send Ra’anana through to its first ever final with his team’s fifth spot kick and the score tied at 3-3.

Haifa defender Risto Mitrevski had his penalty saved by Bolivian stopper Guillermo Vizcarra after having to endure a long wait before taking his team’s third attempt, with Ra’anana’s Mohamed Aly Camara being shown a red card after converting his spot kick and celebrating by making an obscene gesture towards the Beitar Jerusalem fans who had taunted him.

Abuhazira stepped up with the fate of the entire tie at his feet, but Setkus saved his shot, and after Dor Malul converted Haifa’s next penalty, the Lithuanian goalkeeper also stopped Or Dasa’s attempt to spark emotional celebrations from the Hapoel Haifa faithful.

Haifa is experiencing its best season by far since claiming its one and only Premier League championship in 1998/99. Nir Klinger’s side is just five points off Hapoel Beersheba and first place in the league standings, and moved to within a single win of a cup triumph on Sunday.

Klinger’s squad has been playing better than the sum of its parts since the start of the campaign, with the veteran coach getting a group of disgruntled players, many of whom had been written off long ago, to maximize their potential and gel as a unit.

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