(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
After 15 years, everything seems to be in place for Maccabi Haifa to finally
lift the State Cup.
Despite winning seven Premier League championships
since the turn of the century, the cup has escaped Haifa’s grasp time and again
Over that period, the Greens have reached four finals,
including three of the past four, but have come up short each and every
With Haifa in scintillating form over recent months and with none
of the other traditional big guns progressing to Wednesday’s semifinals, the cup
drought finally seems set to come to an end.
Haifa has lost just once
over its past 21 league matches since Arik Benado replaced Reuven Atar as coach,
winning 17 of its games over that stretch, but only drawing 2-2 at Hapoel Tel
Aviv on Saturday.
Benado’s men face Ironi Kiryat Shmona in Wednesday’s
second semi at National Stadium in Ramat Gan following the match between Hapoel
Ramat Gan and Hapoel Rishon Lezion of the National League.
Kiryat Shmona 3-2 when the teams met in league action 11 days ago, with the
Greens remaining 10 points behind top-of-the-table Maccabi Tel Aviv after
Saturday’s stalemate with Hapoel.
“We want to end the season with a
title, but we are facing a very difficult match against Kiryat Shmona,” Benado
Kiryat Shmona looks set to end the season in fourth place after
beating Hapoel Ramat Hasharon 1-0 on Saturday, opening a four-point gap over
Bnei Yehuda in fifth.
Over 15,000 Haifa fans are expected in Ramat Gan on
Wednesday, with 3,000 supporters to make the long journey from Kiryat
“We always believe in ourselves, especially after the tight
defeat to Haifa in the league,” said Kiryat Shmona captain Adrian
“Winning the cup would be an amazing achievement for Kiryat
Shmona. We’ve experienced many ups and downs this season and winning the cup
would cement Kiryat Shmona’s place in Israeli soccer.”
Hapoel Ramat Gan
remained in the relegation zone after only managing a 0-0 draw with rock-bottom
Maccabi Netanya on Saturday.
With just three matches remaining in its
league campaign, Ramat Gan is far more concerned with securing another season in
the top flight than it is with winning a second cup in club history after
lifting the trophy in 2003.
Rishon, which knocked out cup-holder Hapoel
Tel Aviv in the quarterfinals, is currently in sixth place in the National
League and has lost all hope of gaining promotion to the Premier
“Our squad is built around young players so it is only natural
that they are very excited ahead of Wednesday,” said Rishon coach Eyal Lachman,
who led Bnei Sakhnin to the cup in 2004, but is suspended from the
“However, the players have come through stern tests all season and
I believe they will do so once more.”