Maccabi Haifa defender Dekel Keinan (right) celebrates after giving his team a 3-2 lead in last night’s 4-2 victory over Hapoel Haifa at Haifa Stadium.
(photo credit: ERAN LUF)
Three days after equaling its biggest win of the season, a buoyant Maccabi Haifa looks to boost its hopes of claiming a first piece of silverware in five years when it visits Bnei Yehuda at Bloomfield Stadium in the first leg of the State Cup quarterfinals.
Haifa was the dominant force in local soccer in the first decade of the 21st century, winning seven championships in 11 seasons. However, it has been left in the shadow of Maccabi Tel Aviv over recent years, failing to even challenge for the Premier League title.
This season has been no different, with Haifa once more having skyhigh expectations, only to see its title challenge crumble early in the campaign.
Nevertheless, unlike in two of the previous three seasons, club owner Jacob Shachar chose to stick by his coach and Roni Levy has steadied the ship, with Haifa moving up to fifth place in the standings after losing just two of its last 12 matches.
The Greens, who haven’t won the cup in 18 years despite reaching the final four times since, registered arguably their best game of the season in Saturday’s 4-0 victory over Maccabi Petah Tikva at Haifa Stadium, with new signing Gili Vermouth settling seamlessly in the team, creating a threatening attacking trio with Eliran Atar and Yossi Benayoun.
Atar scored two goals, Vermouth and Benayoun one each, with the latter also registering two assists. However, Haifa will have to manage without Benayoun on Tuesday after he was ruled out with a thigh tear, which could keep him out of action for two weeks.
“We need to quickly turn our focus to the match against Bnei Yehuda,” said Levy, with Bnei Yehuda moving up to sixth place in the standings on Saturday with its third win in four games. “We gave our fans something to celebrate on Saturday after not doing so for most of the season and now we need to show continuity.”
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Earlier on Tuesday, in-form Hapoel Beersheba hosts Beitar Tel Aviv/ Ramle of the National League at Turner Stadium, looking to take a significant step towards the semifinals.
Beersheba hasn’t lost in 21 matches over all competitions, opening a fivepoint gap over Maccabi Tel Aviv at the top of the league standings after winning 15 of its last 17 games.
Beitar Tel Aviv/Ramle isn’t expected to pose much of a threat to Beersheba, especially over two legs, with the second division team only sitting in 12th place in the National League after going winless over its past three games.
The two other quarterfinals get under way on Wednesday, with cup holder Maccabi Tel Aviv visiting Hapoel Kfar Saba and Bnei Sakhnin hosting Hapoel Ashkelon of the National League. On TV: State Cup quarterfinals first leg: Hapoel Beersheba vs Beitar Tel Aviv/Ramle (live on Sport5+Live at 7 p.m.); Bnei Yehuda vs Maccabi Haifa (live on Sport5 at 9 p.m.)
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