Bnei Yehuda captured its second Israel State Cup title in the last three years by defeating Maccabi Netanya 5-4 on penalties at Haifa’s Sammy Ofer Stadium on Wednesday night.
After the two sides ended 120 minutes all knotted up at 1-1, Yuval Ashkenazi scored the decisive spot kick and sent the Hatikva neighborhood of Tel Aviv into delirium.
This marked the fourth time Bnei Yehuda won the State Cup out and the third time they prevailed in the final via penalties. The club’s last cup win was in 2017 when it took home the trophy also via penalties against Maccabi Tel Aviv at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem.
Ashkenazi is a true rags-to-riches story after working his way up from the lower divisions of Israeli soccer to find himself on the grand stage. The 27-year old midfielder has made a habit of performing in the clutch this season, most notably when his perfectly placed late-game goal in the semifinals of the competition knocked out favorite Maccabi Tel Aviv.
On Wednesdaty, after each team slotted home their first four penalties, Netanya’s Gaby Kanichowsky missed his squad’s fifth, giving Ashkenazi the chance to once again play hero, and he just barely beat ’keeper Dani Amos as the ball squirted through his hands and trickled into the goal.
In front of close to 30,000 fans split evenly between the teams, Guy Melamed opened the scoring early for Slobodan Drapic’s side as he took a Ali Muhammed ball in the fourth minute and slammed home a scorcher from 20 meters out to give Netanya a 1-0 advantage.
Bnei Yehuda began to press for the equalizer, but Mavis Tchibota’s 19th-minute chance and Shay Konstantin’s ball off the post 15 minutes later came up just short.
The pair of Tchibota and Konstantin continued to threaten the Netanya goal in the second half, but couldn’t find the back of the goal. However, in the 83rd minute, the ever-active Konstantin found substitute Dor Jan who finally beat Amos to draw even.
The score remained 1-1 throughout the 30 minutes of extra time until Ashkenazi’s penalty heroics gave Bnei Yehuda coach Yossi Abuksis his first ever trophy.
“There are things that can’t be explained in words,” said an exuberant Abuksis. “When I saw our fans and how they cheered us on, I thought how amazing it would it be if we can make them even happier. When you can win a cup with young players who aren’t well known, it’s an even more special.”
Ashkenazi was positively radiant after hoisting the trophy.
“I want to thank my family and friends,” he said. “I’m so happy that we did it. I dreamed about bringing the Cup to Bnei Yehuda and I knew when I began playing soccer that I would go as far as I could if I continued to believe in myself.”