betar champs 248.
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Betar Jerusalem claimed its second straight State Cup on Tuesday night, defeating Maccabi Haifa 2-1 at National Stadium in Ramat Gan to secure what will in all likelihood prove to be the final triumph of arguably the most successful era in club history.
Arkadi Gaydamak's precarious financial situation means Betar's future is in real danger and, unless something dramatic happens in the coming months, it looks as though it will take many years until the glory days of the last three seasons return.
However, Betar's players cast all this aside on Tuesday night and ensured that even if this was their last match together, at least they ended it in the sweetest of fashions.
"It feels like this is an end of an era, but I hope it's not," said Betar coach Reuven Atar, moments after winning his first title as coach.
"Arkadi Gaydamak should have been here. He built this team and helped it do so well in the last three seasons. I hope this isn't a goodbye present, but if it is I'm happy for him as well."
Cristian Alvarez gave Betar the lead on 19 minutes with a perfectly placed header and Jerusalem was in complete control at halftime after Aviram Bruchian doubled the advantage two minutes before the break.
Haifa couldn't get back into the match after that, with Biram Kiyal scoring a meaningless consolation goal in the 89th minute.
"I'm very proud of my players. We put on an amazing display in the first half," said Atar, who guided Betar to a seventh cup in club history.
Haifa was hoping to claim a second league and cup double in club history, and first since 1991, but Jerusalem denied it once more, just like it did in 1985 and 1989.
"We started the match very well, but could not convert our opportunities," Haifa coach Elisha Levy said. "In the second half we tried to fight back but it was too late."
The match got off to a lively start, with Haifa's Lior Rafaelov recording the first real chance in the ninth minute, wasting a good opportunity and sending his shot into the side-netting.
However, as the game progressed, Betar grew dominant and was very close to scoring in the 12th minute when Maccabi 'keeper Nir Davidovich almost spilled Amit Ben-Shushan's effort into his own net.
Seven minutes later, Jerusalem scored the all-important opener.
After a nice team move, Idan Tal sent a well-measured cross into the box and Alvarez's superb header gave Davidovich no chance.
Jerusalem immediately went in search of a second goal and after squandering a couple of chances got its reward.
Davidovich couldn't control Barak Itzhaki's powerful free-kick and Bruchian was first to the rebound and made sure Betar took a commanding lead into the break.
Jerusalem was very nearly three goals up by halftime, but Itzhaki somehow sent his shot from three meters out wide of the Haifa goal.
Levy made a couple of substitutions at halftime, introducing Shlomi Arbeitman and Eyal Meshumar in place of Rafaelov and Leonard Krupnik, and five minutes into the second half, he was forced to use his third swap, taking out the injured Yaniv Katan and sending in Gustavo Boccoli.
But it wasn't Haifa's night and nothing Levy tried would work.
Maccabi struggled to threaten Tvrtko Kale's goal and it wasn't until the 89th minute that it finally cut the gap.
In the 78th minute, Eliran Danin left Betar with 10-men after being shown his second yellow card, and 10 minutes later Peter Masilela was brought down in the box by Betar sub Shmuel Kozokin, allowing Biram Kiyal to score from the penalty spot.
However, that would prove to be no more than a consolation for Haifa as Betar held on to its lead and lifted the cup once more.