Hapoel Beersheba striker Elyaniv Barda (in red) and Maccabi Haifa defender Taleb Tawatha (13) are set to clash once more when their teams meet tonight in the State Cup semifinals at Haifa Stadium..
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Hapoel Beersheba will never forget the last State Cup match it played at Haifa Stadium.
Playing in its first cup final in 12 years, Beersheba was targeting a first title since 1997 when it faced Maccabi Tel Aviv in last season’s final in Haifa.
It has been trying to overcome the bitter memories ever since after suffering an unprecedented 6-2 defeat to the yellow-and-blue, a humiliation that left scars that will likely never truly heal.
Beersheba returns to the scene of that humbling loss on Wednesday when it faces Maccabi Haifa for a place in this season’s State Cup final. A rematch of last year’s final remains on the cards, with the second semifinal in Haifa on Thursday featuring Maccabi Tel Aviv and Bnei Sakhnin.
Beersheba enters Wednesday’s showdown in an upbeat mood after regaining pole position in the Premier League title race, moving one point clear of Maccabi Tel Aviv with five matches to play after beating Sakhnin 4-1 while the three-time defending champion could only manage a 0-0 stalemate with Maccabi Haifa.
Haifa is the only team Beersheba has yet to beat in the league this season, with all three meetings to date ending in draws. The sides met in Beersheba just 11 days ago, drawing 1-1 after Ben Sahar’s 84th-minute penalty canceled out Eliran Atar’s opener for Haifa five minutes earlier.
“We haven’t beaten Haifa this season, but we also haven’t lost to them,” said Beersheba coach Barak Bachar. “You aspire all your career to be in a position like this when you are challenging for titles on several fronts.”
Beersheba welcomed Maor Melikson back to the starting lineup for the first time in three months on Saturday and he made a crucial contribution, setting up two goals and helping the team to a 14th win from the past 15 league matches in which he has started.
“We are facing a tough game against Haifa, but we have an opportunity to turn this into a great season,” said Melikson. “Haifa is an excellent team and is playing at home, but we are a top side and we are aiming to win titles.”
While Beersheba hasn’t lost a match in any competition since last September – a span of 30 games – Haifa hasn’t won a game since the beginning of March, going winless in its past five league encounters, although it has drawn its last three contests, including against Maccabi on Sunday.
“It isn’t very fair that we only have three days of rest, compared to Beersheba’s four, but it is what it is and we will deal with it,” said Haifa coach Roni Levy, with the Greens aiming to take another step towards winning their first cup since 1998.
Meanwhile, the search for the next Israel national team coach continued on Tuesday, with the final five candidates to guide the blue-and-white being interviewed at Israel Football Association headquarters at National Stadium in Ramat Gan.
The five-man search committee of IFA chairman Ofer Eini, vice chairman Tamir Gilat, former Bnei Yehuda chairman Moshe Damayo and former national team players Tzvika Rosen and Haim Revivo, allocated coaches Elisha Levy, Guy Luzon, Eli Ohana, Ran Ben-Shimon and Nir Klinger 30 minutes each to present their case to become the new Israel boss.
Former Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Beersheba coach Levy is favored to succeed Eli Gutman and be handed a four-year deal.
The national team doesn’t play its first World Cup 2018 qualifier until September 5 when it hosts Italy.