(photo credit: AP)
Hapoel Tel Aviv remained on course to lift its second consecutive State Cup after defeating Ashdod SC 1-0 at National Stadium in Ramat Gan Wednesday night.
Tel Aviv will play the National League's Hapoel Ashkelon, which outclassed third division Hapoel Ramat Gan 1-0 in Wednesday's first semifinal.
Ashkelon will be appearing in its first-ever cup final next Wednesday. Tel Aviv will make its 12th final appearance.
Tel Aviv, which is going after its seventh State Cup, took an early lead against Ashdod and clinched the victory with solid defending that kept its opponents at bay.
Ashkelon outplayed Hapoel Ramat Gan in every facet of the game and was in control after taking the lead in the 24th minute.
Tel Aviv got off to a flying start and almost took the lead within the first minute of the match. Yigal Antebi hit an exquisite left-footed shot from outside the box that was parried away by an equally superb save from 'keeper Sammy Adjei.
But two minutes later Adjei could do nothing to prevent Hapoel from taking the lead. Tal Hen was first to Salim Toama's free kick and headed his team into the lead from five meters out.
Ashdod couldn't deal with the Tel Aviv set-pieces and almost found itself two goals down six minutes after conceding the first. Toama's corner was met by Walid Badier, who headed the ball just wide of the right post.
Ashdod's offense began to click as the match progressed. It registered its first dangerous shot on goal in the 21st minute. Amir Elkarif's shot from 20 meters out got the better of Hapoel 'keeper Neil Abarbanel. But to the defenders disgust, the ball hit the post and was cleared by the Tel Aviv defense.
Ashdod midfielder Jean-Jacques Gosso was the next to record a shot on goal, hitting a thunderous volley just wide of the Hapoel left post in the 32nd minute.
Five minutes later, Tel Aviv had a golden opportunity to double its lead when Gili Vermot struck a powerful right-footed shot into the Ashdod side netting.
Six minutes before the interval it was Idan Shriki's turn to miss for Ashdod, blasting his shot over the goal from a dangerous position.
Ashdod continued to push for an equalizer at the start of the second half, but the Hapoel defense was up to the task.
In the 77th minute Ashdod defender Christian Gonzalez was only denied a goal by desperate Tel Aviv defending. His shot was blocked at the last moment by the Reds' backline.
Ashdod had its last chance of the match three minutes before the final whistle when Abarbanel saved Rami Duani's blushes by saving the defender's wayward clearance.
In Wednesday's first semifinal, Ashkelon got off to a good start, and it was only a question of time before the Blues would take the lead. In the 11th minute the team had its first chance of the match when Bernard Akwaranta breezed past the Ramat Gan defense, only to shoot high from the edge of the area.
Akwaranta was at the center of the action again in the 22nd minute, hitting his shot straight at the 'keeper from an excellent position in the Ramat Gan box.
Ashkelon finally took a deserved lead two minutes later, thanks to a sensational piece of skill by Emmanuel Omogoa. The midfielder struck a superb shot from the corner of the box, easily beating helpless Ramat Gan 'keeper Shay Hes.
The Blues continued to dominate the match after taking the lead. Twice in a 60-second span they came close to scoring their second goal of the game. In the 26th minute, Nir Nahum was denied by a Hes save. Akwaranta was denied a minute later by a last-ditch tackle by the Ramat Gan defense.
Ramat Gan never found its rhythm in the first half and was fortunate to enter the interval just one goal down. Three minutes from the break Hes again kept his side in the match, tipping Nahum's header over the crossbar with an acrobatic save.
Ashkelon continued to dictate the play in the second half, but squandered chance after chance.
Ramat Gan finally began to pressure the Blues in the closing stages of the match, but its inability to create scoring opportunities doomed it to defeat.
"This is my greatest moment as a coach," Ashkelon's Miro Ben-Shimon said. "I'm extremely happy for the club and its fans, but we need to stay grounded and begin to prepare for the final."