Maccabi Haifa sad 298.
(photo credit: AP)
With most of the Premier League elite still in contention, Saturday's round of 16 State Cup games promise to bring the competition's trademark physical and dramatic play to the fore.
Maccabi Tel Aviv is all but out of this season's championship race, but is positive about its chances in State Cup competition.
The yellow-and-blue takes on National League champion Bnei Sachnin in what could prove to be a difficult tie to be held at the Doha Stadium, Sachnin's 5,000-seater home ground.
"It is an extremely tough draw," Tel Aviv's playmaker Yossi Shivhon commented. "But these games have to be won in order to reach the latter stages of the competition.
"Sachnin is a very good team and it's not going to be an easy task. But I do believe we're capable of winning this fixture.
"We'll also keep fighting for the league championship. Earning three points in every game is not easy. But every game is crucial in the State Cup. We'll strive to produce an error-free performance."
Sachnin, which recently earned promotion from the National League, provided a shock result in the previous round. Elisha Levi's men proved they were no pushovers, beating Reuven Atar's Maccabi Netanya at "The Box", thanks to an impressive performance by Ohad Kadusi.
Outgoing champion Maccabi Haifa will be looking to build on Wednesday's dramatic penalty shoot out victory over Betar Jerusalem when it plays host to Bnei Lod at Kiryat Eliezer. Lod won the Cup in 1983 but failed to keep its act together and is currently eighth in the National League.
"We won't underestimate our opponents," Haifa captain Yaniv Katan told reporters ahead of the game.
"Many supposedly inferior teams have surprised us this season and we must not let this happen again. This game looks easy, but can become tough if we don't prepare ourselves properly."
Roni Levy's side has little chance of qualifying for European competition via the league. But a successful State Cup campaign would secure the greens a place in next season's UEFA Cup qualification rounds. The game is already sold out with around 15,000 enthusiastic fans expected to make their presence felt.
Nir Levin's Hapoel Tel Aviv has a relatively easy draw. The reds visit Hapoel Marmorek, a team with a stadium which can only accommodate around 500 spectators. The hosts wanted to relocate the game to a larger venue, but IFA chairman Avi Luzon rejected all of the team's proposals.
Marmorek currently plays in the Liga Artzit, the third division, but is a club with a rich history in Israeli cup competitions. The reds from Rehovot enjoyed a sole season in the top flight in the early 70s, but have also registered numerous State Cup wins over the years.
Hapoel Herzliya of the Liga Artzit, which stunned Hapoel Petah Tikva in the previous round, will be back in the same stadium this weekend to face Guy Luzon's Maccabi Petah Tikva.
Eli Ohana's Hapoel Kfar Saba, which lost in Wednesday's Toto Cup final to Maccabi Herzliya, will be looking to make amends in a relatively easy game against Hapoel Ramat Gan. Meanwhile, Ashdod SC travels north to take on Upper Nazareth, in what could prove to be a tricky away fixture.
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