Mac Haifa 298.88.
(photo credit: Blake-Ezra Cole)
After an uncharacteristically slow start to the season, Maccabi Haifa's rejuvenation has continued to gather pace. On Wednesday night, Roni Levy's side overcame a skillful and entertaining Bnei Sakhnin team 2-0 to win the Toto Cup for the third time in the competition's 25-year history.
Brazilian striker Renato scored goals at the start and end of the second half, in front of 11,000 fans at the National Stadium in Ramat Gan, to put the game out of reach for Sakhnin.
The first goal came from a penalty and the second after a mistake in the Sakhnin defense.
Maccabi lost its first three games in the Premier League, but has been on a roll recently and is now in third place and brimming with confidence. Yaniv Katan had a solid game for the Greens, but Maor Melikson was again considerably anonymous.
Sakhnin's star youngster Maor Buzaglo had impressive periods on the right wing but could not do enough to win the game for his club.
The team from the Arab village in the Galilee had clearly been the more hungry for much of the match, especially in the opening minutes. But despite shows of quality throughout the match, Sakhnin's strikers were unable to dent the Haifa goal.
Although winning the Toto Cup does not guarantee a place in Europe next season and is treated as a second-string competition by most teams, lifting the trophy brings with it the highest purse in local soccer of NIS 1.6 million.
Bnei Sakhnin began the game playing the free-flowing attacking soccer that has become its trademark this season.
While both teams pushed forward, launching numerous attacks in the first half, it was Sakhnin which looked most dangerous.
Ilia Yavorian had the first chance for Sakhnin in the eighth minute when a fine Maor Buzaglo ball from the right hand side landed on his head in the six yard box. But the Armenian inexplicably headed the ball across the goal and it was cleared by the Haifa defense.
In the 11th minute, Buzaglo again signalled his team's intent, stinging the hands of Haifa 'keeper Nir Davidovitch with a swerving long range effort.
Two minutes before half time, Lior Rafaelov forced the first save by Meir Cohen in the Sakhnin goal when the Haifa youngster skipped into the penalty area and unleashed a fierce shot. Cohen dived to his left and tipped the ball away with his fingertips.
Rafaelov won the penalty for Haifa five minutes into the second half when he was tripped by Basem Ghnaim in the box. Renato ignored attempts by Cohen to unease him and the Brazilian calmly powered the ball into the net to put the Greens 1-0 up.
After the goal, Sakhnin's heads dropped and Maccabi finally grew in confidence, playing the ball around with style.
The second goal came four minutes before the final whistle. Renato pounced onto a defensive mix-up in the Sakhnin back four and easily slotted the ball past Cohen.
Sakhnin knew the game was out of its reach and began to play dirty in the closing moments and as injury time began, Yavorian was sent off for an off the ball foul on Giovanni Rosso.
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