Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Eran Zahavi.
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Maccabi Tel Aviv edged closer towards becoming the first Israeli club to complete an unprecedented local treble on Wednesday night, beating Ironi Kiryat Shmona 3-0 at Bloomfield Stadium to advance to the State Cup semifinals with a 4-1 aggregate win.
With the Toto Cup already in the bag and a four-point gap over Kiryat Shmona at the top of the Premier League standings, Maccabi is perfectly placed to claim all three local titles after advancing to the cup semis for the first time since 2005.
Two goals within four minutes by Barak Badash (26) and Eran Zahavi (30) put Maccabi in the driving seat before the latter capped the emphatic victory in the 69th minute.
Maccabi will be joined in the last four by Hapoel Beersheba and National League clubs Hapoel Afula and Ahi Nazareth.
After claiming a 3-0 win on the road in the first leg, Beersheba coach Elisha Levy could afford to rest many of his starters against Maccabi Yavne on Wednesday.
Dovev Gabay nevertheless gave the hosts the lead in the 65th minute, with the match ultimately ending in a 1-1 draw after Daniel Gretz’s 90th-minute equalizer.
In Petah Tikva, a goal by Shlomi Hanukkah on the eve of Purim secured the upset of the quarterfinals, giving Hapoel Afula of the National League a 2-2 draw at Maccabi Petah Tikva and a place in the last four by virtue of away goals after the first leg ended in a 0-0 deadlock.
There will be two first-time semifinalists from the second division, with Ido Exbard’s 14th-minute winner handing Ahi Nazareth a 1-0 victory in the second leg and a 2-1 aggregate win over fellow National League club Hapoel Kfar Saba.
At Bloomfield, Kiryat Shmona was saved by the crossbar in the 23rd minute, with Zahavi’s free-kick beating everyone but the woodwork.
However, Maccabi broke the deadlock just three minutes later courtesy of Badash. The former Kiryat Shmona striker has started in just three league matches for the yellow-and-blue this season, but he has been in the lineup in all four cup contests to date and scored once more against Kiryat Shmona on Wednesday after also netting the equalizer in their league showdown two weeks ago.
Badash received the ball in the center of the box and coolly curled it into the back of the net, leaving stopper Guy Haimov with no chance.
The tie was as good as over four minutes later, with Zahavi continuing his recent prolific form by finishing off a sensational team move.
After scoring just three goals in his first eight matches over all competitions in 2015, a mediocre return by his standards after beginning the league campaign with 16 goals in 12 games, Zahavi found the back of the net for a third straight contest before making it four goals in a week from the penalty spot in the 69th minute.
Maccabi Petah Tikva entered its second leg against Afula as a firm favorite and Ran Ben-Shimon’s team seemed to be well course to the semis after goals from Hagay Goldenberg (10) and Oz Peretz (52) opened what looked to be a comfortable two-goal advantage.
However, superb 20-year-old Nigerian striker Lanry Kahinda, who is on loan from Maccabi Tel Aviv, handed Afula a lifeline in the 63rd minute and Hanukkah scored the all-important second goal just two minutes later.
Petah Tikva pushed forward in search of a winner, but 42-year-old goalkeeper Meir Cohen kept the hosts at bay and Afula advanced.