Shechter Hapoel TA 311.
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Hapoel Tel Aviv will look to continue its march towards a third league and cup double in club history when it faces Ironi Ramat Hasharon of the National League in the State Cup semifinals at National Stadium in Ramat Gan on Tuesday.
Two victories in its remaining pair of league matches would give Hapoel its first Premier League title since 2000, and two wins are also all that separates Eli Gutman’s team from lifting the cup.
Ramat Hasharon has knocked out a Premier League team in each of the last two rounds, beating Hapoel Beersheba 3-1 in the last 16 before defeating Maccabi Petah Tikva 2-1 in the quarterfinals.
However, it will be playing an opponent of completely different pedigree on Tuesday, with Hapoel winning 12 of its last 13 league matches, scoring an impressive 38 goals during the run.
Tel Aviv has also cruised in the cup so far, progressing through three rounds of play with a combined goal difference of 10-0.
Nevertheless, Hapoel’s top scorer Itai Shechter believes his team has still got plenty of work to do before it can start celebrating and he is adamant Tel Aviv will not be taking Ramat Hasharon lightly.
“I’m delighted we are doing well, but we haven’t done anything yet,” Shechter said. “We’ve played well all season, but we’ve still got a few more matches left and we will need to enter every one of them like a war.
“We need to focus on one match at a time. Ramat Hasharon is by no means a small team. It knocked out two Premier League sides in the previous rounds and that tells you a lot about its class. Ramat Hasharon has a good team and a good coach and we will be taking the semifinal very seriously.”
Ramat Hasharon is guided by Eran Kulik, who joined the club midway through the season after being sacked by Bnei Sakhnin.
Kulik was brought on board to lead the team to promotion, but the side’s 3-2 victory over Ironi Bat Yam on Friday was its first in six league matches and it currently trails second-placed Hapoel Ashkelon by four points with two games remaining.
While the encounter between Tel Aviv and Ramat Hasharon is expected to be extremely one-sided, especially as Gutman will likely name all his stars in the starting lineup, the first semi of the evening between Bnei Yehuda and Ashdod SC is almost impossible to predict.
Bnei Yehuda will be the slightly more confident of the two teams after defeating Betar Jerusalem 2-0 at Teddy Stadium on Saturday to climb to fourth position in the league standings.
However, despite losing three straight games, Ashdod has played well for much of the season and is more than capable of beating Bnei Yehuda, as it showed in its 3-2 victory over Guy Luzon’s team at Bloomfield Stadium in January.
“We are hoping to continue our momentum from the victory over Betar and
win once more in the cup,” Luzon said. “We will do all we can to win
the cup. There is no need to explain the importance of the match to the
players. They will all be giving their best.”
Yossi Mizrahi was furious with his team’s performance in the 4-0
thrashing at the hands of Hapoel Tel Aviv on Saturday and he is hoping
for a much improved display on Tuesday.
“The players didn’t
fight on the pitch and that angers me,” Mizrahi said. “If we play
without heart and soul we’ve got no chance.”