maccabi haifa 88.
(photo credit: )
Maccabi Haifa has won four Premier League championships in the last five seasons, but has failed to impress in the State Cup for a long time.
The greens, who have not won the prestigious knockout competition in eight seasons, visited Hapoel Beersheba at a jam-packed Vasermil Stadium and came out victorious thanks to Gustavo Boccoli's second-half heroics.
Haifa coach Roni Levy was without influential midfielder Idan Tal, who is currently in England negotiating a contract with English Premier League club Bolton. The team was also missing veteran sweeper Arik Benado and right back Klemi Saban.
"All State Cup games are tough. We knew it was going to be a tough game as [Beersheba coach] Marko [Balbul] is doing a great job with this team," said a relieved Roni Levy after the win. "I don't justify the poor performance, as the reserve players should also do their job when called upon."
Balbul was offered a cup of honor by former teammate Alon Harazi prior to the match, to acknowledge his service as player and assistant coach at Haifa.
The hosts, who are currently in the National League, surprised the reigning Premier League champion from the start, with Eyal Shen dominating the midfield and distributing the ball in impressive fashion. The former Hapoel Petah Tikva anchor eventually helped the reds find the breakthrough.
Shen took control of the ball in attack and skillfully looped the ball towards Hanan Fadida, who was lurking unmarked in the box. The quick forward made no mistake and sneaked the ball past Nir Davidovitch to make it 1-0 in the 25th minute.
Beersheba switched to menbehind-ball tactics at the beginning of the second half, a move that would cost the hosts dearly in the 54th minute.
Veteran Adoram Keisi made a determined run on the left flank and sent in a seemingly ineffective cross into the box. But Beersheba goalkeeper Asi Rahamin fumbled the ball and enabled Michael Zandberg to score from close range and even the score.
Haifa took control of the game in the remaining minutes, but was inaccurate up front and failed to break the deadlock. Just a minute before the final whistle and two minutes into stoppage time, Gustavo Boccoli proved his worth.
The visitors were awarded a free kick 30 meters from goal. Boccoli stepped up and unleashed a furious drive that landed in the back of the net and lifted Haifa into the State Cup quarterfinals in dramatic fashion.
"I don't blame my goalkeeper for the loss," a disappointed Balbul commented after the match. "These things happen in soccer."
"Our aim now is to work hard and return to the Premier League next season," he added.
Maccabi Haifa remains on course towards a historical domestic triple: another Premier League championship, the State Cup and the Toto Cup.
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