Maccabi TA soccer 248.88.
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
This year's Toto Cup final between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Ashdod SC on Wednesday takes on added importance.
Besides the opportunity to claim Israeli soccer's first title of the season and securing the NIS 1.2 million winners check, Maccabi and Ashdod are hoping Wednesday's final at National Stadium in Ramat Gan proves to be a landmark game for each of their respective clubs.
Even though the Toto Cup is the least sought after piece of silverware in Israeli soccer, Avi Nimni will be desperate to win his first title as Maccabi coach.
Since taking charge of the team at the start of November, Nimni has had little to smile about and he's hoping a victory on Wednesday will mark the start of a new successful era at the club.
"Maccabi hasn't won a title in many years," said Nimni, who is hoping to guide the club to its first trophy since the 2005 State Cup.
Nimni was encouraged with his team's performance in the 1-1 draw against Maccabi Haifa on Monday, but will have to make changes to his side, which will be playing its second match in less than 48 hours.
"We will play our best players available. I don't want to address the fatigue factor, because if we concentrate on that we won't be able to get it out of our heads," said Nimni, who led Maccabi to the title match with a semifinal victory over Hapoel Tel Aviv.
"This is a cup game and therefore we need to approach it slightly differently. We must play cautiously because in a match like this you pay dearly for mistakes. We're facing a tough opponent. Even though Ashdod lost on Saturday, the team is playing well and is more or less equal to us."
Ashdod will be playing in its fourth Toto Cup final in eight years, but is still searching for a first title in club history.
Yossi Mizrahi's team thrashed Bnei Sakhnin 4-0 in the semifinal, but has lost all three of its league matches since the winter break, the latest a 3-2 defeat to Betar Jerusalem at Teddy Stadium.
"We're in a negative momentum and Maccabi is in a positive momentum, but we proved in the semis that we can do it," Mizrahi said.
"The more composed team, which can bring its qualities to the field, will take the cup. I also hope that luck will be on our side because I've already lost one final on penalties with Ashdod.
"This club has never won a title and there's nothing we would like more than to lift the trophy on Wednesday. I hope we can create a new tradition for Ashdod."
Ashdod midfielder Yossi Ofir is hoping to bring smiles to the faces of the team's long suffering fans.
"Everybody in Ashdod is counting down to the kickoff," Ofir said. "We've decided that we will do whatever it takes to return to the city with the cup."
Also on Tuesday, Hapoel Beersheba won its first title in 12 years, defeating Maccabi Herzliya 1-0 after extra-time in the National League Toto Cup final at Winter Stadium in Ramat Gan.
Dudi Fadlon headed in the winner in the 98th minute after a Beersheba corner kick.
In other Israeli soccer news on Tuesday, Maccabi Netanya coach Lothar Matthaus was suspended for one match and also received a suspended sentence of two more matches on the sideline.
An Israel Football Association tribunal found Matthaus guilty of swearing at referee assistant Shabtai Nahmias during last Monday's match at Hapoel Tel Aviv.
Less than two months ago, the German coach was suspended for two matches and was handed a NIS 7,500 fine by an IFA tribunal for a similar offense.