Maccabi Haifa Arbeitman 248.88.
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger )
An unconvincing Maccabi Haifa laid the ghost of two years ago to rest on Saturday afternoon, beating valiant Hapoel Ramat Gan, of the National League, 1-0 in the State Cup, thanks to Yaniv Katan's extra-time goal.
In other State Cup action Saturday, other lower league sides performed courageously against their Premier League counterparts, but in the end, a combination of superior fitness and mental toughness saw the top sides through.
There was nearly a massive shock at Bloomfield Stadium, where a cash-strapped Hapoel Umm el-Fahm took in-form Premier League side Bnei Yehuda right to the wire.
But after a goalless draw, the side from Israel's third division (Liga Artzit) lost a dramatic penalty shoot-out 10-9, with Bnei Yehuda 'keeper Dele Aiyenugba scoring the winning spot-kick.
The drama appeared a bit too much for Umm el-Fahm's last two penalty takers, Farid Tahar and Nabil Nasser a-Din, who initially refused to step up for their spot kicks.
After eventually being persuaded by their teammates to do so, Nasser a-Din scored, but Tahar hit the bar.
At Teddy Stadium, a brave Hapoel Jerusalem, of the National League, briefly led Premier League's Ashdod SC, but eventually lost 4-1 after extra-time, thanks to a brace from Idan Sade.
At Winter Stadium, the Premier League's bottom club, Hakoach Amidar Ramat Gan, was seconds away from being dumped out of the cup by the National League's Hapoel Beersheba, but Benny Hadad equalized Ofir Haim's first-half goal in the last minute of normal time, and the home side eventually ran out 3-1 winners, owing to extra-time goals from Barak Badash and Hadad.
In the only all-Premier League affair, Dedi Ben-Dayan's first-half goal gave Maccabi Netanya a 1-0 home victory over Maccabi Petah Tikva.
Haifa's performance was dull at Hamahtesh Stadium, and there was no obvious gulf in class between the Premier League table-topper and the lower league side.
William Soares and Kobi Hasan were magnificent in midfield for the hosts, hustling and harrying the Haifa players to allow them very little time on the ball.
While Gustavo Boccoli and John Culma were absolutely awful for the visitors, which lost at the very same stadium in the quarterfinal stage in 2007.
The game began at a frenetic pace, with Haifa's Osei Ransford volleying straight at Hapoel's veteran 'keeper Rafi Cohen, while, at the other end, Hasan's clever near-post free kick almost caught out Cohen's opposite number Nir Davidovitch, but the ball curled inches wide.
Midway through the half, Omri Afek pounced on a Haifa corner, but dithered in front of goal and the chance went begging.
Ramat Gan had a golden opportunity to take the lead at the start of the second half. Hasan found Moshe Abutbul, whose exquisite pass found an unmarked George Datoru in front of goal, but Davidovitch came off his line like lightning and made a wonderful save to thwart the Nigerian.
It was end-to-end stuff in the closing stages of normal time, with Cohen saving Boccoli's stinging free-kick and Davidovitch then holding Abutbul's fierce volley.
Both sides appeared to have run out of steam in extra-time, although Ransford fluffed a header from a Katan cross, while an Abutbul free-kick was tipped around the post by Davidovitch.
Just when the game appeared to be heading for a penalty shoot-out, the country's top team scored a scrappy winner.
With 113 minutes on the clock, Haifa substitute Biram Kiyal played in Afek down the right. The Haifa winger's cross came off Fanteni's knee, Katan flicked it over the onrushing Cohen and the ball bobbled over the line.
The hosts then threw everything forward and it almost paid off when a corner caused mayhem in the Haifa box before the ball was cleared off the line by Peter Masilela.
Eyal Golasa missed a sitter at the death for Haifa, but the league leader still went through to the next round and remains on course for a league-and-cup double.
Hapoel Ramat Gan coach Yuval Naim commended his players for "giving 120 percent against the best team in the country."
Naim lamented the "one mistake at the back," which cost his team.
"If you do that against a player of Katan's quality, you pay in a big way," he said.
"I'm frustrated we let in a goal so late, but that's football," Naim added resignedly.