(photo credit: NK Productions)
After a considerable lack of success in the league, Tuesday's Toto Cup final provided a much welcome distraction for Betar Jerusalem.
Idan Vered scored with a deft side-footed volley six minutes into the second half, ensuring the team from the capital overcame Hapoel Ra'anana 1-0 at National Stadium in Ramat Gan and claimed the first piece of silverware of the 2009/10 season.
If the pressure had been on Betar coach Itzhak Schum before the game, it increased exponentially in a first half dominated by a Ra'anana side which played out of its skin.
However the experienced coach appeared to inject a degree of enthusiasm into his players at half time, and his team took the game to their opponents in the second half, fighting for every ball and, at last, allowing their skills to show.
"We are very happy to take this cup," said center back Tomer Ben-Yosef. "It is important for the moral of the team. Every win is important. We haven't got the results we needed to recently but we will improve."
The NIS 1.1 million prize will also provide some much needed financial security for the Jerusalem team which is in a precarious economic position following sponsor Guma Aguiar's forced entry into a psychiatric hospital two weeks ago.
Ra'anana coach Eli Cohen was naturally disappointed with his side's failure to win a title in the club's first appearance in a cup final, but nevertheless proud of its effort.
"Of course no one likes to lose in a cup final, but Betar was much stronger in the second half," Cohen said. "After we let in the goal Betar grew in confidence. It his a team with much more ability than ours and if you give them space to play they know what to do with it."
Stressing that Ra'anana's appearance in the final was a bonus, Cohen said his main goal is to secure survival in the Premier League.
Only 5,600 supporters made the trip to Ramat Gan, but there was no lack of atmosphere among the Ra'anana fans, and in the early moments of the match Ra'anana played with a passion far exceeding that of their opponents.
Spurred on by a small but vocal group of supporters, the team in red saw far more possession of the ball and created the more dangerous chances. Steven Cohen and Avi Knafo linked up well before Tamir Por forced a save from Ariel Harush with a forceful header in the 10th minute.
At the other end, Betar's lack of cohesion was clear from the kick off, with its players pressing down the wings but failing to threaten.
In the third minute, Toto Tamuz put Amit Ben-Shushan through but he took too many steps and fluffed the ball, one of few realistic opportunities for Jerusalem in the first half.
Ra'anana also proved its defensive prowess, goalkeeper Shaul Smadja saving well from Barak Itzhaki after the Betar striker stormed forward on the break midway through the opening half, and then stretching to stop a Tamuz effort.
Omri Atir's fierce long range shot with 10 minutes left in the period seemed to only increase the confidence in the Ra'anana squad, which had every reason to be satisfied with its first half performance.
Betar coach Itzhak Schum could only be disappointed with his team's showing, which culminated a few minutes before the break with Ben-Shushan failing to find the target once again and Tamuz deflected his teammate's shot over the crossbar.
Schum may have given some strong words of encouragement to his players, who started the second half on the front foot with a wave of attacks.
And it paid dividends when Vered scored only six minutes gone, volleying in an Avi Rikan cross with his instep.
Jerusalem began to take control, pushing Ra'anana onto the back foot with a period of crisp passing.
After a terrible first half, Itzhaki was revived while Ben-Shushan looked like a new man.
Cohen brought Raz Cohen on for Cristiano dos Santos on the hour mark,
but the striker who scored the winner in the semifinal against Maccabi
Haifa two weeks earlier had far less of an impact on the final.
Itzhaki should have wrapped things up for Betar in the 85th minute but
he missed an open goal after Tamuz had turned the ball in, leaving the
team's supporters biting their nails during the four minutes of time