Maccabi Tel Aviv striker Aaron Schoenfeld (right) nets his team’s opener in last night’s 2-1 win over Beitar Jerusalem in the State Cup semifinals at Haifa Stadium, finding the back of goalkeeper Boris Kleyman’s net with his shoulder. .
(photo credit: ERAN LUF)
Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Premier League title hopes may have suffered a significant blow, but the yellow-and-blue has no intention of ending a second straight season empty- handed, advancing to the State Cup final on Wednesday night with a 2-1 win over Beitar Jerusalem at Haifa Stadium.
Maccabi will be a firm favorite to win a second cup in three years in what will be its third straight final when it faces Bnei Yehuda at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem on May 25.
Bnei Yehuda, which is battling relegation from the Premier League, beat Hapoel Ramat Gan of the National League 1-0 in the first semifinal on Tuesday.
Maccabi controlled Wednesday’s semi from the start, and Beitar looked lost once Aaron Schoenfeld gave the yellow-andblue the lead in the 18th minute with his first goal for Maccabi since joining the club from Hapoel Tel Aviv in the January transfer window.
Substitute Dor Micha effectively clinched Tel Aviv’s place in the final with his strike in the 60th minute, with Hen Ezra’s 89th-minute goal for Beitar of no consolation for the losers.
Maccabi will become just the second team since 1983 to play in three straight finals, joining the Hapoel Tel Aviv sides which lifted the cup three years in a row between 2010 and 2012.
The yellow-and-blue lost to Maccabi Haifa in last year’s final after beating Hapoel Beersheba in the title game the previous season.
Maccabi fell six points behind Beersheba with eight matches remaining in the league campaign following a 1-0 defeat to the reigning champion on Saturday, and while it refuses to throw in the white towel in the title race, it entered Wednesday knowing its best chance of picking up silverware this season is in the cup.
The defeat in the semis is especially painful for Beitar. Not only was the club hoping to win the trophy for the first time since 2009, but it also missed an opportunity to play the final at its home stadium.
Beitar was also aiming to qualify for the Europa League by winning the cup, but Wednesday’s loss means its only remaining route to continental qualification is via league play.
The game plan for both teams was clear from the start, with Maccabi aiming to dominate the possession and convert its control to goals, while Beitar looked to catch the yellow-and-blue defense off guard with swift counter-attacks.
Both teams had their chances before Schoenfeld gave Maccabi the lead.
Sheran Yeini’s cross left Beitar goalkeeper Boris Kleyman stranded in no-man’s land and Schoenfeld, who was a surprise inclusion in the starting lineup, tucked the ball in with his shoulder.
Beitar’s best chance to equalize in the first half arrived eight minutes later. Dan Einbinder’s volley was denied by an instinctive save from Predrag Rajkovic and Maccabi clung to the one-goal lead at the break.
Beitar also reached the first chance of the second half, but Rajkovic was well placed to clear Ezra’s strong effort in the 50th minute.
Jerusalem would inevitably live to regret the squandered opportunity, with Maccabi doubling its lead 10 minutes later, breaking Beitar’s spirit. After coming on as a substitute for the injured Barak Itzhaki at the start of the second half, Micha wriggled his way into space in the Beitar box before firing past Kleyman.
Ezra handed Beitar a lifeline in the 89th minute, but it was too little too late, allowing Israeli soccer’s most decorated club to move within one win of another piece of silverware.