Hapoel Tel Aviv 311.
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
The Premier League title may have slipped away, but Hapoel Tel Aviv no longer has to worry about having nothing to show for its superb season.
Hapoel defeated Bnei Yehuda 3-1 in the State Cup final at National Stadium in Ramat Gan on Tuesday night, winning its third cup in five years and ensuring it will not end its best season in a decade empty-handed.
Bnei Yehuda, on the other hand, will have to wait at least one more season before it ends its cup drought, which will now reach 30 years.
Tel Aviv’s hopes of winning the league championship suffered a hefty blow on Saturday after it only managed a 0-0 draw against Maccabi in the derby and Maccabi Haifa climbed to first position in the standings with one match remaining.
However, Hapoel showed no sign of Saturday’s heartbreak against Bnei Yehuda, displaying the resilience and mental strength which has led to such a great season.
“We have achieved so much this season that even had we not managed to win the cup, this campaign could never have been labeled as a failure,” Hapoel coach Eli Gutman said. “I’m so proud of my players.”
After a nervy start, Gili Vermut gave Hapoel the lead in the 25th minute with a classy finish, but Bnei Yehuda got a deserved equalizer 13 minutes later, with Tel Aviv defender Douglas da Silva scoring an own-goal.
The match seemed wide open, but three minutes from the break Bnei Yehuda’s hopes of winning a first cup since 1981 all but went up in flames.
An awful back-pass by Dean Mori resulted in goalkeeper Dele Aiyenugba bringing down Itai Shechter in the box, giving Hapoel a penalty and leaving referee Eitan Tabrizi with no option but to show the Nigerian goalkeeper a red card.
Tel Aviv ’keeper Vincent Enyeama converted the spot kick and Hapoel cruised in the second half, clinching the victory after Vermut netted his second goal of the night in the 73rd minute.
“We knew how to lift ourselves after Saturday’s disappointment and played a good match,” Vermut said. “This is my third cup with Hapoel and I hope I will win my first championship on Saturday.”
The occasion seemed to be getting to both sides at the beginning of encounter, but after the tentative start Hapoel began to find its rhythm.
Tel Aviv began to move the ball in its trademark free-flowing style and dominated the possession.
Bnei Yehuda was happy to congest the midfield and wait patiently to hit Hapoel on the counter-attack and for the first 25 minutes Guy Luzon’s tactics kept Tel Aviv frustrated.
However, a moment of brilliance by midfield magician Vermut would give Tel Aviv the breakthrough 25 minutes into the match. Vermut picked the ball up on the edge of the box and after passing two defenders released a clever shot with his right foot which gave Aiyenugba no chance.
Bnei Yehuda was forced to come out of its shell after conceding the goal and the final 20 minutes of the half were played at a fervent pace with both sides reaching numerous chances.
In the 36th minute, Itzik Azuz’s shot beat Enyeama, only for Omri Kende to clear the ball off the line and keep his team in front.
Two minutes later, however, it was another Tel Aviv player who gifted Bnei Yehuda the equalizer. Bnei Yehuda’s quick corner caught Hapoel off guard and Oz Raly’s cross into the box was turned into the back of the net by Tel Aviv’s Brazilian defender da Silva.
However, Bnei Yehuda’s joy at getting back on level terms would last just six minutes.
A horrible back-pass by Mori cost Bnei Yehuda dearly and Hapoel ended the half in a very commanding position after Enyeama gave Tel Aviv the lead and Aiyenugba was given his marching orders.
Hapoel was in complete control at the start of the second half and created countless chances to increase its lead.
Da Silva, Shechter, de Ridder and Zehavi all reached golden
opportunities and were very nearly made to pay for their wastefulness.
A dreadful back-pass by Hapoel defender Walid Badier was picked up by
Eliran Atar, but the striker’s attempt was blocked by a last-ditch
tackle by Kende and Tel Aviv was spared.
Three minutes later, Vermut wrapped up the victory. The 24-year-old
surged into the box and was never going to make a mistake with his
volley after collecting the ball five meters from the goal.
Tel Aviv could have added at least a couple of more tallies over the
remainder of the match, but its near misses were of little importance
as the final whistle sounded and the players got their hands on the
trophy they so thoroughly deserved.