Jerusalem toils to 2-1 win over second division side • Premier League action resumes Saturday.
By ALLON SINAI
Beitar Jerusalem booked the eighth and final spot in the State Cup quarterfinals with a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Hapoel Marmorek Rehovot of the National League at Teddy Stadium on Thursday night.Gaetan Varenne continued his prolific form with a first-half brace (19, 25) and Nikolay Dyulgerov’s strike for the visitors in the 32nd minute ended up being no more than a consolation goal.Marmorek would have deservedly forced extra time had Aleksandar Rakic converted a golden opportunity in stoppage time.Beitar’s hopes of claiming the cup for the first time since 2009 received another boost earlier in the day when it discovered that Hapoel Kfar Saba, the only remaining National League side in the draw, was waiting for it in the quarterfinals.Elsewhere in the last eight, Maccabi Haifa, which knocked out Maccabi Tel Aviv with a 3-0 win on Wednesday, faces Hapoel Haifa, while Hapoel Beersheba plays Ironi Kiryat Shmona in a repeat of last season’s round-of-16 tie won by the Northerners. Ashdod SC will play Hapoel Ra’anana.The quarterfinals will be played in a home-and-away format, with the first legs to take place on February 6-8 and the return legs to be held between February 27 and March 1.Premier League action retakes center stage on Saturday, with Beersheba hoping to return to winning ways at Turner Stadium, while Dutch coach Fred Rutten guides Maccabi Haifa for the first time.Beersheba hosts Ra’anana aiming to snap a rare two-game winless streak at home.Beersheba is still unbeaten in league action at Turner since entering the stadium in the 2015/16 campaign, a record streak of 43 matches.However, it could only manage draws against Bnei Yehuda and Hapoel Haifa in its past two home contests, after previously winning five in a row at Turner.Despite defeating rock-bottom Hapoel Acre 1-0 on the road last weekend, Beersheba ended up falling to second place in the standings.Maccabi Tel Aviv’s 3-1 win over Hapoel Ashkelon on Sunday saw it improve to 41 points from 19 matches, taking its goal difference to plus-16 (35-19). Beersheba also has 41 points and a plus-16 goal difference (31-15), but dropped bellow the yellow-and-blue as it has scored fewer goals than Maccabi.Tel Aviv will be in action on Sunday when it visits Bnei Yehuda.Meanwhile, Rutten was unveiled as Maccabi Haifa’s new coach on Thursday and will already take charge of the side for Saturday’s clash against Maccabi Petah Tikva.Rutten, who has coached at Dutch giants PSV (2009-12) and Feyenoord (2014-15), as well as at Schalke 04 (2008-09) in the German Bundesliga, watched Haifa’s triumph over Tel Aviv in the cup from the stands and believes the Greens can bridge the nine-point gap from the top six, which will qualify for the championship playoffs at the end of the season.“The main reason I took this job is that this is a big challenge and a nice project, to get this club to where everyone thinks that this club should be which is at the top of the league,” said Rutten. “I’m not a magician, but we still have a chance to reach the championship playoffs. If we play like we did in the cup we have the possibility to do that.”Elsewhere Saturday, Ashkelon hosts Ashdod and Acre welcomes Hapoel Haifa, which has fallen five points behind the leaders after picking up just a single point from its last three matches.Also Sunday, Bnei Sakhnin hosts Kiryat Shmona.Beitar Jerusalem, which is one point off the summit, visits Maccabi Netanya on Monday.
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