Maccabi Tel Aviv striker Barak Itzhaki (10) celebrates with his teammates.
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Barak Itzhaki made a triumphant return to Maccabi Tel Aviv’s starting lineup on Wednesday night, scoring twice to lead the yellow-and-blue to the last-16 of the State Cup, while Maccabi Haifa overcame a scare to secure its progress.
Itzhaki returned from a 10-month absence when he came on as a late substitute in the Toto Cup final two weeks ago and he was finally given a real opportunity to prove his worth by coach Pako Ayestaran on Wednesday. Maccabi used a second-string lineup against Beitar Tel Aviv/Ramle of the National League, but the yellow-and-blue’s bench players had little trouble claiming a 4-1 victory in Ramle.
Itzhaki gave Maccabi the lead after less than three minutes, but Avi Avinu leveled the score for the hosts with a penalty in the 25th minute after the referee had gifted them a spot kick. However, it took Maccabi just four minutes to move back in front courtesy of Barak Badash’s predatory skills before Itzhaki (52) netted his second goal with an acrobatic kick and Ben Reichert (72) completed the scoring.
With its league campaign in shambles, Maccabi Haifa is desperate to make a run in the cup, but it very nearly suffered an exit at the first hurdle on Wednesday before ultimately beating Hapoel Ramat Hasharon of the National League 3-1 after extra-time.
Ben Azovel gave Ramat Hasharon the lead in the 20th minute and Haifa was only level at the break thanks to Hen Ezra’s moment of brilliance in the 38th minute, with the midfielder finding the top right corner with an unstoppable shot from the edge of the box.
For much of the match it was difficult to tell which team had started the season as one of the Premier League title favorites and which one was the mediocre side from the second division.
Haifa was hapless and was lucky to force extra time, with Liran Shriki being denied by Vladimir Stojkovic in the 89th minute when he only had the ’keeper to beat.
The Greens made the most of the reprieve, with Ruben Rayos (103) and Weeam Amasha (109) scoring in the additional 30 minutes to keep alive Haifa’s hopes of winning a first cup since 1998.
“We are undergoing a process and I’m trying to steady the ship,” said Haifa coach Marco Balbul. “I’m convinced that with hard work and with a couple of new signings we will get back on track.”
Tel Aviv and Haifa joined the 11 teams which progressed on Tuesday: Ironi Kiryat Shmona, Hapoel Beersheba, Ashdod SC, Maccabi Petah Tikva, Hapoel Ra’anana, Hapoel Kfar Saba (NL), Ahi Nazareth (NL), Hapoel Afula (NL), Ma’alot-Tarshiha (III), Hapoel Marmorek (III) and Shikun Hamizrach (III).
The final three qualifiers for the roundof- 16 will be decided on Thursday when Hapoel Ashkelon (III) faces Beitar Jerusalem, Maccabi Yavne (NL) hosts Bnei Sakhnin and Hapoel Rishon Lezion (NL) welcomes Hapoel Tel Aviv.
Earlier Wednesday, Roni Levy was appointed as the new coach of Maccabi Netanya, replacing Yossi Mizrahi.
Netanya was knocked out in the roundof- 32 of the State Cup by Ahi Nazareth of the National League on Tuesday, losing 3-1.
Mizrahi said after the match that he will remain at the helm at least until the team’s next Premier League game against Bnei Sakhnin on Monday, but less than 24 hours later his request to leave the club was accepted after being previously declined on countless occasions over the last month.
Netanya is currently just two points above the relegation zone and its players haven’t been paid since November due to the club’s financial difficulties, with owner Eli Segev announcing two months ago that he is leaving the club.