Beitar, Haifa target Cup final showdown

Semis double-header sees Jerusalem clash with Kiryat Shmona and Haifa face Ra’anana

Beitar Jerusalem striker Gaetan Varenne (right) is set to continue in the team’s starting lineup (photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Beitar Jerusalem striker Gaetan Varenne (right) is set to continue in the team’s starting lineup
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Beitar Jerusalem looks to remain on track for a stunning Premier League and State Cup double when it faces Ironi Kiryat Shmona in the cup semifinal in Haifa on Sunday night.
Hapoel Haifa plays Hapoel Ra’anana in the first semi of the day at the same venue.
Few experts predicted Beitar would be among the main contenders for the championship and the cup so late in the season, especially with off-field distractions disrupting its campaign even before day one, with head coach Sharon Mimer being sacked four days before the start of league play.
But Beitar is just a single point behind leader Hapoel Beersheba with nine matches to play ahead of their showdown at Turner Stadium on Wednesday.
Before turning its focus to league action, Jerusalem is targeting its 11th cup final in club history in the hope of remaining on course for a seventh cup triumph. Beitar was last part of the final in 2009, when it also lifted the trophy.
That was long before owner Eli Tabib took charge, bringing with him the turmoil that has come to characterize his clubs, while proving yet again his eye for talent at bargain prices.
Tabib isn’t supposed to be involved in the running of the club, serving a two-year suspension due to a ruling made by the Israel Football Association’s ownership transfer committee last summer following his conviction in June 2015 for assaulting a minor and disturbing the peace. Eli Ohana was hired as Beitar’s top professional and administrative authority ahead of the season, but there is no doubt Tabib remains heavily involved in almost every aspect of the club’s running, not only signing players, but also ordering substitutions from the stands during matches.
Tabib may be breaking IFA regulations and has deservingly earned criticism for the constant chaos off the field, but it is difficult to argue with the team’s results, and the major role he has played in the success.
Beitar begins a four-day stretch that could make or break its campaign when it plays Kiryat Shmona on Sunday, knowing two wins would leave it in an excellent position to complete a dream season.
“We are in second place and in the cup semis, but whatever I say may sound bad as everything could change after this week,” said Ohana.
“Right now, I’m not willing to settle for anything. We will do our best and we believe in ourselves. But we have still got a long road ahead of us.”
Kiryat Shmona, which knocked out reigning Premier League champion Beersheba in the quarters, has the most recent memories of claiming the cup from all four semifinalists, going all the way in 2014, which was also the last time it played in the semis.
Hapoel Haifa will be playing in the last four for the first time since 2004 when it went on to reach the final before losing to Bnei Sakhnin.
Haifa has won the cup three times in its history, but not since 1974.
Nir Klinger’s team is coming off a 2-1 win over Maccabi Tel Aviv in league action that moved it tied with the yellow-and-blue and left it within only five points of first place.
Ra’anana will be playing in its first semifinal in club history after overcoming Ashdod SC on penalties in the last eight.