maccabi haifa 88.
(photo credit: )
Maccabi Haifa and Ashdod SC booked their places in the Toto Cup final on Wednesday evening after defeating Hapoel Tel Aviv and Maccabi Tel Aviv, respectively, at National Stadium in Ramat Gan.
The final on March 7 will award the first title of the 2005-06 campaign.
In the early match, Ashdod came from behind to beat Tel Aviv 4-2. Ashdod trailed already in the second minute, but thanks to poor defensive play by Tel Aviv, the southern team was able to score with ease and advance to the final for a second straight year.
The top two teams in the Premier League met in the nightcap, with Haifa scoring the lone goal.The teams were equally matched for most of the game, but a well worked free kick by Haifa's Idan Tal gave the greens a first-half lead that they hung onto until the end.
The Toto Cup is the least sought after piece of silverware in Israeli soccer and is usually a low priority for the top sides, which tend to field second-rate teams in the competition. However, after reaching the semifinals, the teams had no intention of letting the opportunity and the big prize money slip away and fielded relatively strong sides.
The few fans that made the effort and came to the doubleheader in the cold weather were still looking for their seats when two minutes from the start Maccabi Tel Aviv's new player Giorgi Demitradze accurately crossed the ball to Jose Duarte, who easily headed Tel Aviv into the lead.
Nine minutes later Ashdod tied the score when unmarked Moshe Ohayon headed in the ball direct from a corner.
Ashdod completed the comeback in the 27th minutes when striker Shai Holtzman easily slotted in a penalty after Christian Gonzalez handled the ball in the box.
One minute passed and Maccabi equalized. Duarte got his second of the match with a header from Liran Cohen's cross.
On the stroke of halftime Ashdod took the lead once again after stand-in Maccabi keeper Guy Haimov made a mess of Blesing Kaku's 25-meter shot and bundled the ball into his own net to give Ashdod a 3-2 lead.
The match continued to be evenly balanced at the start of the second half, but in the 69th minute Haimov's day went from bad to worse. The 'keeper failed to control the ball outside the box and turned it over to forward Idan Shriki, Haimov then fouled the Ashdod forward leaving the referee with no option but to show him the red card.
Ten minutes from the final whistle Ashdod put the match beyond Tel Aviv's reach after substitute Shriki cleared the Tel Aviv defense and easily rounded the 'keeper to give Ashdod a 4-2 victory.
The second semifinal had a lot to live up to and both sides set out to emulate the entertaining first match. Both teams played attacking soccer, but unlike the first semifinal, goals were at a premium.
Tel Aviv had the first good chance when Gili Vermot hit the bar in the 29th minute, but Haifa eventually took the lead when in the 38th minute thanks to Tal.
Hapoel pressured Maccabi in the second half, but desperate defending by the league-leaders secured their place in the final.