Maccabi Tel Aviv players celebrate with Nikola Mitrovic after he scored the team’s second goal in last night’s 2-0 win over Hapoel Tel Aviv in the derby at Bloomfield Stadium..
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
The Premier League’s top two teams, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Beersheba, will face off in next month’s State Cup final after comfortably overcoming first-time semifinalists from the National League at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem on Wednesday night.
Maccabi beat Ahi Nazareth 3-0, taking the lead after less than two minutes through Eran Zahavi, but not securing its place in the final until substitute Rade Prica scored in the 82nd minute. Nikola Mitrovic put the icing on the cake with a delicate chip from 30 meters out one minute from time.
“We haven’t shown today what we are capable of,” said disgruntled Maccabi coach Pako Ayestaran. “We cannot be pleased with how we played today because we were not ourselves. This is not the way Maccabi wants to play.”
Beersheba crushed Hapoel Afula 7-0 in the first semi of the day, requiring exactly two minutes to move in front and taking just four more minutes to double its advantage before running riot on the way to the biggest ever win in cup semifinal history. Dovev Gabay scored a hat-trick, while Maor Melikson orchestrated his team’s play from the midfield, setting up two goals and scoring another.
The previous record was held by Maccabi Tel Aviv, which beat Hapoel Petah Tikva 7-1 in 1952.
“I don’t remember a team playing so calmly and confidently at this stage of the cup,” said Beersheba coach Elisha Levy.
“We saw all our talent explode tonight. We made history and reached the final for the first time in many years and now we want to win the cup.”
Maccabi and Beersheba will be meeting for the second time in the cup final, which will be held at Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa on May 20.
Tel Aviv will be playing in its first cup final since 2005, when it also last won the trophy, and has its sights set on completing an unprecedented treble of local titles. The yellow-and-blue has already lifted the Toto Cup, Israeli soccer’s second cup competition, earlier this season and holds a 10-point gap over Beersheba at the top of the league standings with five matches to play.
Beersheba will be appearing in its first final since 2003, with its one and only cup triumph coming against Maccabi in 1997, which was also the last time it lifted any title.
Beersheba got off to a perfect start on Wednesday and kept its foot on the gas until the final whistle.
Afula’s defense was caught napping by Melikson after just two minutes, with the midfielder finding Gabay in plenty of space and the striker coolly slotting in the opener.
Beersheba doubled its advantage less than five minutes later, with Melikson doing all the hard work down the left flank before picking out Shlomi Arbeitman. The striker netted his second goal of the evening in the 30th minute and Melikson capped his sensational first half with a deserved goal one minute from the break, finding the bottom left corner from 20 meters out.
After scoring only a single goal and registering just two assists in 25 Premier League matches so far this season, Melikson matched that tally in the first half of the semifinal before his teammates piled the misery on Afula after the break.
Evyatar Iluz’s 71st-minute volley was sandwiched by two more goals from Gabay (68, 80).
“We advanced to the final after a long time,” said Melikson. “Maccabi is an excellent team, but so are we. Anything can happen in one match.”
Earlier Wednesday, Nazareth held a press conference thanking those who helped raise money for the club, including fugitive former Balad MK Azmi Bishara.
Bishara was honored by Nazareth for helping the club acquire funds in Qatar where he currently resides after fleeing Israel in 2007 while under investigation for passing information to Hezbollah during the previous year’s Second Lebanon War.
Bishara, who founded Balad and was an MK in the 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th Knessets, was also honored by Bnei Sakhnin earlier this season.
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