Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Vidar Orn Kjartansson.
(photo credit: ARIEL SHALOM)
It may only be the Toto Cup, but after two barren years and a disappointing start to the season, Maccabi Tel Aviv is anything but picky.
Vidar Orn Kjartansson’s 83rd-minute winner gave the yellow-and-blue a 1-0 victory over Hapoel Beersheba in the final of Israeli soccer’s second cup competition at Netanya Stadium on Thursday night, a much-needed triumph after its recent struggles.
Maccabi had ended the past two seasons empty handed, finishing in second place behind Beersheba in Premier League action and losing in the State Cup final two years in a row.
Kjartansson, who was last season’s top scorer in the Premier League, had failed to find the back of the net in his past 10 matches over all competitions. He finally snapped that two-month drought on Thursday, scoring with a superb header eight minutes after coming on as a substitute.
Maccabi’s previous Toto Cup win came in 2014/2015 when it went on to claim an unprecedented local treble with league and State Cup triumphs.
Beersheba was aiming to emulate that achievement after missing out on the State Cup last season, winning the championship and the Toto Cup, but being knocked out in the round of 16 of the State Cup.
“They were the hungrier team and were more aggressive and that is the main reason we lost,” said Beersheba coach Barak Bachar.
Maccabi Tel Aviv coach Jordi Cruyff may have insisted otherwise prior to the match, but from the start it was evident that his team lent far greater significance to the final.
With three consecutive draws in league play leaving Maccabi seven points back of Beersheba in the league standings, and with its Europa League campaign coming to an end last week, the yellow-and-blue knew a triumph on Thursday could help kick-start its season.
Maccabi registered the first shot on target in the 16th minute, with Avi Rikan’s effort being cleared by goalkeeper Guy Haimov. Beersheba didn’t find the target for the first time until the 27th minute, with Dan Einbinder’s shot not troubling Predrag Rajkovic.
Beersheba should have really taken the lead four minutes later, with defender Hatem Abd Elhamed heading straight at Rajkovic despite having plenty of time and space five meters from goal.
There was little doubt Maccabi was the better team in the first half, but it had nothing to show for its efforts at the break.
Beersheba coach Barak Bachar knew he had to do something, and he made no less than three substitutions at the start of the second half. Dor Elo, Vova Broun and Tomas Pekhart replaced Ben Bitton, John Ogu and Michael Ohana, and Bachar also adjusted his team’s formation in order to counter Maccabi’s dominance.
The changes seemed to make all the difference, with Beersheba finally having more of the possession.
Hapoel came close seven minutes into the second half when Mihaly Korhut’s free kick caught everyone by surprise, apart from Rajkovic, who made sure to clear the danger.
Beersheba required an excellent save by Haimov to maintain the stalemate nine minutes later, with the ’keeper spreading himself to keep out Eliran Atar’s powerful volley.
There was nothing Haimov could do to deny Kjartansson seven minutes from time, with the Icelandic striker, who came on in the 75th minute, sending an unstoppable header into the bottom right corner to give Maccabi a win it hopes will prove to be a turning point in its season.