Hapoel Beersheba midfielder Maor Buzaglo.
(photo credit: DANNY MAROM)
Two seasons after Maccabi Tel Aviv became the first team to win the Israeli treble, Hapoel Beersheba’s quest to emulate the achievement reaches its first decisive point when it faces Ironi Kiryat Shmona in the Toto Cup final in Netanya on Wednesday.
The Toto Cup is often overlooked by clubs, being used as an opportunity to give bench players a chance to prove themselves or a trial to a potential recruit. However, that all changes when teams happen to reach the latter stages, with the lure of another piece of silverware, as unattractive as it may be, too strong to resist.
Beersheba has gone two consecutive games without a win in the Premier League for the first time this season, being held to a 1-1 draw by Hapoel Tel Aviv on Sunday after losing to Hapoel Ra’anana 1-0 the previous week.
Nevertheless, it still remains a firm favorite to defend its league title, holding a seven-point gap at the top over Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Beersheba’s place in the round of 16 of the State Cup also looks to already be all but guaranteed after being drawn against Maccabi Tzur Shalom of the third division. Beersheba hosts Tzur Shalom next Thursday, but will first want to clinch the first part of the treble by beating Kiryat Shmona on Wednesday.
“It is always fun to play in a final, regardless of the competition,” said Beersheba coach Barak Bachar, who is set to make several changes to the team but plans to field a strong lineup. “I thought we played well against Hapoel Tel Aviv despite the draw. It is true that we have picked up just one point from our past two games, but I don’t think there has been a drastic downturn in our form.”
Kiryat Shmona will never be regarded as one of Israeli soccer’s big clubs, but it is aiming to continue its success of recent years and claim a fifth title in the past seven seasons on Wednesday.
Kiryat Shmona is already on its third coach this season, with Tomer Kashtan replacing Benny Ben-Zaken one month ago after the latter was sacked following only three matches.
Despite its erratic campaign, Kiryat Shmona climbed up to fifth place in the league standings on Saturday, extending its unbeaten run to five matches with a 2-0 victory over Beitar Jerusalem.
“We are facing the best team in the country, but we will not give up without a fight and we want to win this cup,” said Kashtan. “I may only be in the job for one month, but it has been a very intense month. There is no doubt that our recent results in the league give us confidence and self-belief.
Beersheba is a clear favorite, but we are optimistic.”
Kiryat Shmona could also use a victory on Wednesday to boost its bank account, with the winner in the final to receive NIS 1.3 million, while the loser will have to settle for NIS one million.
Hapoel Tel Aviv’s crisis deepens Hapoel Tel Aviv’s situation took another turn for the worse on Tuesday after trustee Shaul Kotler announced that he hasn’t received any bids for the club.
The Tel Aviv District Court approved earlier this month a request for a stay of legal proceedings due to debts estimated at over NIS 100 million. The trustees were then given two weeks to find a new owner to replace Amir Kabiri.
However, with no offers being made, the trustees are set to ask the court for an extension until next Thursday (January 5). If no bids are made by then, Hapoel will go into administration, resulting in the release of all its players and the coaching staff.
“Unfortunately, the drama that we are witnessing is about to become a tragedy,” Kotler wrote in his report to the court. “The illustrious football club of Hapoel Tel Aviv is on its way to disappearing.”