Maccabi Haifa lifts first title in five years

Greens defeat Mac TA in State Cup final in Jerusalem, leaving yellow-and-blue empty handed.

Maccabi Haifa midfielder Ataa Jaber (right) celebrates with teammates after scoring his side’s second goal in last night’s 3-2 win over Hapoel Haifa. (photo credit: ERAN LUF)
Maccabi Haifa midfielder Ataa Jaber (right) celebrates with teammates after scoring his side’s second goal in last night’s 3-2 win over Hapoel Haifa.
(photo credit: ERAN LUF)
After 18 years without a State Cup and five years without any title, Maccabi Haifa finally has something to celebrate, beating Maccabi Tel Aviv 1-0 in the cup final at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem on Tuesday night.
A mere three days after Tel Aviv thrashed Haifa 6-0 in their final Premier League match of the season, the yellowand- blue dominated once more, but couldn’t find the back of the net against a determined defense. Once Hen Ezra gave Haifa the lead in the 36th minute, the Greens focused on defending and frustrated Tel Aviv until the final whistle to claim the cup.
Haifa’s last title came back in 2011 when it won its seventh championship in 11 years. The cup had eluded the Greens even during their heyday though, with Haifa last lifting the famous piece of silverware back in 1998.
It was playing in its fifth final since on Tuesday and finally ended the drought, with captain Yossi Benayoun lifting the trophy for the first time in his career in what was possibly his final match for the club.
“We experienced a very tough season and this big club deserves to win a title,” said Haifa coach Roni Levy, with the Greens winning the cup for a sixth time in club history (1962, 1991, 1993, 1995, 1998, 2016) Tel Aviv entered the final still licking its wounds from dropping the Premier League championship after three years, finishing in second place, two points back of Hapoel Beersheba, despite crushing Haifa on Saturday.
After winning an unprecedented treble last season, claiming the Toto Cup as well as the State Cup and championship, Tuesday’s defeat means the yellow-andblue ended this season empty handed.
After going unbeaten in 24 matches over all competitions since joining Tel Aviv in January, coach Peter Bosz suffered his first defeat at the helm on Tuesday, a bitter ending to his reign ahead of his expected move to Dutch giant Ajax.
Since Jordi Cruyff was appointed as sport director in 2012, no coach has remained at Maccabi for more than one season. After ending the club’s 10-year championship drought in the 2012/13 campaign, Oscar Garcia left for Brighton & Hove Albion of the English Championship.
He currently coaches Austrian champion Red Bull Salzburg. Paulo Sousa of Portugal replaced him and led the team to a second straight league title before leaving for FC Basel. He now guides Fiorentina in Italy’s Serie A. Oscar returned for a short stint in the summer of 2013, but left before the league campaign even began due to the security situation at the time. Pako Ayestaran, also of Spain, was hired in his place and led the team to an unprecedented domestic treble last season, winning the Premier League championship, State Cup and Toto Cup. However, his contract wasn’t extended. His next team was Santos Laguna in the Mexican league, but he later joined Valencia in La Liga as an assistant to Gary Neville before being named as manager in March. Slavisa Jokanovic of Serbia took his place, but after guiding the team to the Champions League group stage for the first time in 11 years, he left in December for Fulham of the English Championship.
Bosz surprisingly left Dutch top-flight team Vitesse Arnhem to join Maccabi, but he is departing after less than five months, receiving an offer he couldn’t refuse from Ajax.
Tel Aviv looked to dominate the possession from the start on Tuesday, but for all its ball control it created few scoring opportunities.
Haifa was content on soaking up the pressure and waiting for its chance to arrive on the break or through a set-piece.
It made the most of the opportunity when it arrived in the 36th minute, with Hen Ezra getting the slightest of touches on Ludovic Obraniak’s free-kick from the right.
The yellow-and-blue was unfortunate not to equalize less than three minutes later, with goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic somehow getting an arm on Eran Zahavi’s powerful header.
Tel Aviv tightened its grip even further in the second half, but Haifa’s defense stood resolute to end the season on a sweet note.