Hapoel Tel Aviv's Ran Ben-Shimon..
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Tel Aviv, and Maccabi Haifa are all still licking their wounds from their shock midweek State Cup exits ahead of this weekend’s Premier League action.
While Maccabi Tel Aviv – which doesn’t visit Bnei Sakhnin until Sunday – can console itself in the knowledge that it still owns a three-point gap at the top of the standings, Haifa and Hapoel Tel Aviv lost any realistic hope of lifting a trophy this season after being sent packing from the cup at the first hurdle in the round-of-32.
With Hapoel Beersheba also consolidating its position just behind Maccabi Tel Aviv, all the Greens and Reds have left to fight for is third place and qualification for the Europa League.
Hapoel Tel Aviv currently occupies third place with 31 points, ahead of Sakhnin on goal difference, while Haifa is in fifth place, just one point further back. In fact, Hapoel Tel Aviv and eight-place Hapoel Haifa are separated by just five points, meaning even a berth in the top-six championship playoffs is far from a given.
Hapoel Tel Aviv entered Wednesday’s cup tie with Hapoel Haifa brimming with confidence, winning its previous four league matches, including a 4-0 humbling of Haifa just two weeks ago. However, Zarko Korac’s winner from the penalty spot in the 86th-minute secured Haifa a 2-1 victory.
Hapoel hosts Hapoel Ramat Hasharon on Saturday and is hoping for a repeat of its biggest win of the campaign (5-0), which came against its upcoming opponent three months ago.
Maccabi Haifa crashed out in the roundof- 32 of the cup for the first time since 1965 after losing 8-7 to Hapoel Ra’anana in a penalty shootout after extra-time ended in a 0-0 draw on Wednesday.
Matters could go from bad to worse for the Greens should they fail to defeat Hapoel Haifa in the local derby at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium on Saturday.
Hapoel Haifa is riding a wave of confidence after defeating Hapoel Tel Aviv, with Shlomi Dora’s team also beating its cross-town rival when they last met three months ago.
Hapoel Beersheba avoided the upset bug, advancing to the round-of-16 with an easy 4-0 win over Maccabi Sha’arayim of the third division on Tuesday.
The Southerners can move tied on points with the yellow-and-blue in first place for at least 24 hours with a victory over Ashdod SC at Vasermil Stadium on Saturday.
Ashdod stunned Maccabi Tel Aviv 2-1 in extra-time to advance to the last-16.
Also Saturday, Maccabi Petah Tikva hosts Ironi Kiryat Shmona and Bnei Yehuda visits Hapoel Ra’anana while Beitar Jerusalem hosts Hapoel Acre on Monday.
In Thursday’s State Cup last-16 draw, Beitar was paired with Bnei Lod of the National League, which knocked out Jerusalem in the round-of-32 two years ago.