Beitar Jerusalem striker Itay Shechter..
(photo credit: UDI ZITIAT)
Maccabi Haifa’s State Cup defense ended at the first hurdle on Saturday, while Maccabi Tel Aviv and Beitar Jerusalem both safely progressed to the round-of-16.
Haifa claimed the cup for the first time since 1998 last season, beating Maccabi Tel Aviv in the final. With its Premier League campaign floundering, winning just one of its past six matches to fall to fourth place, Haifa was hoping the cup would once more prove to be a pleasant distraction.
However, another lackluster performance gave it no chance against a determined Petah Tikva side, which built on its excellent league form with a deserved win at Haifa Stadium.
Guy Melamed gave the visitors the lead in the 44th minute, making the most of Haifa’s defensive frailties, with Nenad Adamovic securing the win in second-half stoppage time.
“We are all very disappointed but it is a reflection of where we are. A reflection of what Maccabi Haifa have gone through in the last five years,” said Haifa coach Rene Meulensteen. “We need to get rid of it and that is the only message we can give the players.”
Petah Tikva coach Kobi Refua was understandably delighted with his team’s result.
“People kept saying that we got the toughest draw in the round-of-32, but they should have said that it was Haifa which received the toughest draw,” said Refua. Maccabi Tel Aviv was playing for the first time since the departure of coach Shota Arveladze, and had little trouble overcoming Bnei Lod of the National League 3-0. Vidar Orn Kjartansson scored twice in five minutes (22, 26) before Yossi Benayoun wrapped up the win in the 57th minute.
Sports director Jordi Cruyff guided Maccabi on Saturday, but is hoping to bring in a new coach as soon as possible, with Arveladze’s tenure ending after less than seven months.
“When you decide to part ways with a coach it is because things aren’t the way you expected,” said Cruyff. “For sure it wasn’t only the responsibility of the coach, but mine as well and the players. In this club you have the obligation to fight with everything you have every game. We need to make some adjustments and we will do it.
“It has been my most difficult season at Maccabi for sure,” added Cruyff, who joined the club in 2012. “If it is the worse or not is difficult to say in the middle of the season.”
Beitar got off to a perfect start on Saturday, with Itay Shechter netting the opener after five minutes. Erik Sabo (79) and Lidor Cohen (91) put the game to bed.
The round-of-32 will be completed on Sunday when Hapoel Tel Aviv hosts Hapoel Ramat Hasharon of the National League.
Hapoel Tel Aviv is still dealing with the aftershocks of last week’s change in ownership, with the group led by the Nisanov brothers saving the club from going into administration.
Tel Aviv District Court Judge Eitan Orenstein ordered representatives of the players and the owners to meet on Sunday morning after the players turned to the court following a demand by the new owners to scrap their contracts and sign new deals.
In an announcement made on Friday, the Nisanov group said that it will respect the contracts of Omri Altman, Edi Gotlieb, Aaron Schoenfeld, Ibrahim Sfuri, Gal Shish, Tzlil Hatuka and Itzik Sholmyster. The new owners also announced that sports director Eli Gutman and striker Dudu Biton were both released from the club, and that they will meet with the rest of the players this week.