Maccabi Tel Aviv midfielder Tal Ben-Haim (center) is set to clash with Ironi Kiryat Shmona’s Kassio (3) and Ahad Azem (77) yet again tonight in the second leg of the State Cup quarterfinals at Bloomfield Stadium..
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
The brewing rivalry between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Ironi Kiryat Shmona is set to intensify on Wednesday night when the two teams battle for a place in the State Cup semifinals at Bloomfield Stadium.
Shimon Abu Hazeira’s equalizer with the final kick of the first leg of the quarterfinal tie last week gave Kiryat Shmona a 1-1 draw and set up a tantalizing return leg in Tel Aviv.
Kiryat Shmona, which won the cup last season, looks to be the only obstacle standing between Maccabi and a third consecutive Premier League title, although Sunday’s 2-1 defeat to Hapoel Beersheba has left Barak Bachar’s men four points behind the yellow-and-blue.
In three previous meetings this season, Maccabi has yet to beat Kiryat Shmona, with the sides also drawing 1-1 in league action at Bloomfield two weeks ago.
Tel Aviv, which hasn’t lifted the cup since 2005, required an 85th-minute equalizer by Barak Badash to avoid defeat in what could prove to be a turning point in the league campaign. Kiryat Shmona hasn’t won since, going three consecutive league games in all without victory.
Maccabi seemed set to take a 1-0 lead into the second leg, with Eran Zahavi opening the scoring in the 44th minute.
However, Kiryat Shmona fully deserved to level the score in the third minute of stoppage time and coach Bachar sounded extremely confident of his team’s chances in the return leg, despite conceding what could prove to be a crucial away goal.
“We proved we are just as good as them,” said Bachar. “This match gives us a lot of confidence ahead of the second leg.”
The recent meetings between the teams have become chippy, with Maccabi players criticizing Kiryat Shmona’s defensive- minded game after the latest league showdown and the northerners returning the compliment following last week’s cup affair.
Kiryat Shmona will be without injured striker David Manga on Wednesday after he was ruled out for at least three weeks with a thigh injury he picked up in the loss to Beersheba.
Maccabi is expected to be without midfielder Gili Vermouth, and coach Pako Ayestaran is yet again expecting a tough contest against Kiryat Shmona.
“They have been consistent throughout the season and I don’t think they are vulnerable,” said Pako when asked of his opponent’s recent struggles. “I really believe that my squad is good enough and deep enough to answer all these difficulties.”
The three remaining semifinalists will also be decided on Wednesday.
Hapoel Beersheba is expected to cruise into the last four, taking a 3-0 lead over Maccabi Yavne of the National League into the second leg at Vasermil Stadium.
Coach Elisha Levy plans to rest Elyaniv Barda, Ofir Davidzada and Austin Ejide while Yavne is just hoping to avoid a humbling aggregate score-line.
Maccabi Petah Tikva hosts second division Hapoel Afula after a 0-0 draw in the first leg.
“They will try to catch us on the break and we have to be ready for that,” said Petah Tikva coach Ran Ben-Shimon.
Petah Tikva is especially wary of 20-yearold Nigerian striker Lanry Kahinda, who is on a season-long loan at Afula from Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Kahinda has scored 24 goals for Afula so far this season, including two impressive strikes against Hapoel Kfar Saba in National League action over the weekend.
There is guaranteed to be at least one National League team in the last four, with Hapoel Kfar Saba and Ahi Nazareth tied at 1-1 entering the return leg in Nazareth.
Kfar Saba is hoping to reach the semis for the first time since it did so under the guidance of current Beersheba coach Elisha Levy in 2000, while Nazareth has never been past the quarterfinals.
On TV: State Cup quarterfinals second-leg: Hapoel Beersheba vs Maccabi Yavne / Maccabi Petah Tikva vs Hapoel Afula / Ahi Nazareth vs Hapoel Kfar Saba (live on Sport5+Live at 7:10 p.m.); Maccabi Tel Aviv vs Ironi Kiryat Shmona (live on Sport5 at 8:30 p.m.).