Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Tel Aviv will meet in the State Cup final for the first
time ever on May 25 after coming through two dramatic semifinals at National
Stadium in Ramat Gan on Wednesday.
Haifa and Tel Aviv have won 18 cups
between them, playing in 34 total finals since the inaugural competition in
1928. However, the two Israeli giants have surprisingly never faced each other
in the final before, adding further intrigue to an already mouthwatering
encounter between the two dominant forces in Israeli soccer in recent
Haifa, looking for its second double in club history and first
since the 1990/91 season, survived a thriller against Maccabi Netanya on
Wednesday, winning 3-2 thanks to Lior Rafaelov’s 69th-minute
“There is still no reason to celebrate yet,” said Haifa’s
down-to-earth coach Elisha Levy, who needs one more league win to clinch the
championship and wants to guide the Greens to their first cup since
“We have made an important step in the right direction after
playing superbly. Haifa hasn’t won the cup in many years and it is about time we
do it. We can’t wait for the final.”
Hapoel also had its work cut out for
it in the first semi of the day, beating Ironi Kiryat Shmona 2-0 through another
spectacular Eran Zahavi goal in the 80th minute and a Ben Sahar strike
“We overcame a tricky match against a tough opponent, which we
failed to beat in the league,” Hapoel coach Eli Gutman said. “We used the right
tactics and I told my players that the team which has more counterattacks will
win. Zahavi scored another goal for his collection and I’m very proud of all my
players. We have come through a long and difficult season and I hope we can end
it on a high.”
Kiryat Shmona coach Ran Ben-Shimon was understandably
frustrated with the defeat.
“We lacked a little luck,” Ben-Shimon said.
“Usually such close games are won by the team with more experience and I’m
disappointed because I don’t like to lose.”
Haifa dominated the start of
its semi, with Hemed terrorizing the Netanya defense.
The in-form striker
twice came close to scoring an early opener, but his shots were off target,
allowing Netanya to take a shock lead in the 30th minute.
surged through the Haifa defense before completely miss-hitting his shot, only
to see Firas Mugrabi tuck the ball beyond Nir Davidovich.
very nearly doubled Netanya’s lead six minutes later when his header almost
caught Davidovich by surprise, but it was Haifa which would score next, just a
Eyal Meshumar floated the ball into the box and Hemed’s
perfectly executed header gave ’keeper Carlos Arias no chance.
minutes after the break, Yaniv Katan squandered a golden opportunity from the
center of the box, but the Greens would have to wait just two more minutes to
complete their comeback.
After a nice team move, Vladimir Dvalishvili
turned in the box to score his 17th goal of the season.
lead wouldn’t last long.
Seidu Yahaya lunged at Tretyak’s feet in front
of referee Menashe Mashiah and Ahmed Saba stepped up to convert the penalty and
tie the score in the 60th minute.
Eight more minutes passed and Netanya
returned the favor by gifting Haifa a spot kick.
Dele Yampolsky mistimed
his tackle and brought down Rafaelov, who brushed himself off and sent Arias the
wrong way to put Haifa back in the lead.
Netanya committed more players
forward, desperate for the equalizer, but Haifa held on to advance to the
“We worked and fought and eventually achieved our goal,” Hemed
“I waited for my chance at the start of the season and now that I
have got it I’m making the most of it.”
In the first semi at Ramat Gan,
Hapoel continued its disappointing play from the league at the start of the
game, allowing Kiryat Shmona to dictate the pace.
The northerners were
far more threatening in the early stages and came centimeters away from scoring
the breakthrough in the 21st minute.
Hapoel’s defense was caught napping
on a Kiryat Shmona corner kick and Ofir Hemo should have really found the back
of the net rather than the post.
Tel Aviv finally began to find its
rhythm in the final 10 minutes of the half, but squandered two glorious chances
to take the lead.
Seven minutes from the break, Toto Tamuz had time and
space at the center of the Kiryat Shmona box, but he fluffed his effort and
Ben-Shimon’s team was spared.
Four minutes later, goalkeeper Guy Haimov
came to Kiryat Shmona’s rescue, acrobatically saving Zahavi’s
Wiyam Amashe recorded the first chance of the second half when
he fired straight at Hapoel ’keeper Vincent Enyeama, but both teams created
little following the interval and the match seemed destined to go into extra
Once more Tel Aviv’s ultimate winner came to
his team’s rescue in its hour of need, scoring with a sensational bicycle kick
10 minutes from time.
Sahar secured the victory seven minutes later after
a Hapoel counterattack and gave the Reds hope of ending the season on a sweet
“We needed a win and it doesn’t matter how we did it,” Sahar said.
“We deserved this win against a tough opponent.
“We are tired after
playing almost 50 matches this season, including in the Champions League, but we
still managed to win and we want to lift at least one title this season.”