Maccabi Tel Aviv players celebrate after sealing a 2-0 win over Ironi Kiryat Shmona in the Toto Cup semifinals in Acre.
(photo credit: ERAN LUF)
It may only be the Toto Cup, but after two seasons without a title, Maccabi Tel Aviv is taking nothing for granted.
Maccabi moved within a win of claiming Israeli soccer’s second cup competition after advancing to the final of the Toto Cup on Wednesday night with a 2-0 victory over Ironi Kiryat Shmona in the semifinals in Acre.
Maccabi will face the winner of the second semifinal between Hapoel Beersheba and Maccabi Haifa to be played in Netanya on Thursday.
Aaron Schoenfeld (17) and Barak Itzhaki (53), who have received few opportunities in Premier League action this season, scored for Maccabi, which last won the Toto Cup in 2014/2015, going on to claim an unprecedented local treble with league and State Cup triumphs.
“We tried to administer the minutes because we are playing on Saturday and I think we achieved that objective,” said Maccabi coach Jordi Cruyff.
“Another important thing for me was that we kept a clean sheet and showed more aggressiveness on defense.”
It was a testament to Maccabi’s struggles this season that Wednesday’s match had taken on such importance.
The group stage of the Toto Cup, played prior to the start of the Premier League campaign, is treated as nothing more than a pre-season competition.
Clubs of the likes of Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Beersheba, who also play in Europe, generally use makeshift lineups in what is for them a glorified scrimmage, at least until they happen to reach the latter stages.
The victory over Kiryat Shmona will give Maccabi some much-needed confidence after a dejecting November. The yellowand- blue lost both its matches in the Europa League group stage this month, 1-0 to Astana and 2-0 to Slavia Prague, and is in danger of becoming the first team in the history of the competition to end a group campaign without scoring a single goal.
Maccabi edged Hapoel Ra’anana 1-0 in Premier League action at the start of the month, but once more struggled to gather momentum when it could only manage a 2-2 draw at Hapoel Haifa on Sunday.
Nevertheless, the yellow-andblue is still only three points back of leaders Haifa and Beersheba and can move tied on points with first place, for at least 24 hours, with a win over Ashdod SC on Saturday.
“We will grow little by little,” added Cruyff. “I’m still angry with us losing points on Sunday after leading 2-1 at halftime. We have to improve.
We are losing so many points that we already have in our hands, like in Ashkelon away when we led 2-0 with 20 minutes to play and it finished 2-2. These points could have put us higher.”
Maccabi has already played 30 matches over all competitions this season, and Cruyff admitted he is far from pleased.
“I’m not happy. We have had some difficulties, but players are coming back now, the team is looking fresh and there is more competition,” he noted. “I hope the way is up, but we are not happy with the first 30 games.”