Jerusalem only team with a lead as Beersheba knotted with K8, Haifa clubs, Ra’anana-Ashdod also tied.
By ALLON SINAI
Hapoel Beersheba and Beitar Jerusalem will try and shift the tightest Premier League title race in decades to the back of their minds as they turn their focus to mid-week State Cup quarterfinal action.Only one points separates the top three teams in the standings after Beersheba and Beitar draw 1-1 at Turner Stadium on Sunday. Maccabi Tel Aviv and Beersheba are tied on 51 points and a plus-22 goal difference, with Maccabi having the edge by virtue of having scored more goals. Beitar is just one point back in third place.Beitar shouldn’t encounter much trouble on its way to the cup semifinals when it hosts Hapoel Kfar Saba of the National League on Wednesday after winning their first leg 2-0.Beersheba faces a far trickier prospect, visiting Ironi Kiryat Shmona in its second leg on Wednesday after drawing 1-1 at Turner in the first match.The first cup semifinalist will be decided on Tuesday when Hapoel Ra’anana hosts Ashdod SC after their first leg ended in a 1-1 draw.Ra’anana and Ashdod will be meeting for the second time in four days, with the former claiming a 2-1 victory in league action on Saturday.The win moved Ra’anana eight points clear of the relegation zone, while Ashdod remained one place and four points above the bottom two.AdvertisementRa’anana had gone more than a year without a league win at home until Saturday, and also combined two consecutive victories for the first time this season.Two more semifinal berths will be decided on Wednesday when Beitar faces Kfar Saba at Teddy Stadium while Beersheba makes the long trip up north to Kiryat Shmona.The fourth and final semifinalist will be determined on Thursday when Hapoel Haifa hosts Maccabi Haifa after their first leg ended in a 2-2 draw.Beitar will rest many of its regular starters, believing its second-string lineup should also be good enough to complete the job.One of the biggest questions entering the match is whether Gaetan Varenne will continue his impressive cup scoring streak after netting braces in the round-of-16 and round-of-32 and also scoring in the first leg in Kfar Saba.Varenne was a late scratch from Beitar’s starting lineup in Sunday’s stalemate at Beersheba after injuring his back in the warm-up.Beersheba, which hasn’t won the cup since 1997, was knocked out by Kiryat Shmona in the round-of-16 last season.That 2-1 loss in January 2017 remains Beersheba’s only defeat at Turner in Premier League or State Cup action since the reigning champion entered its new home early in the 2015/16 season.Beersheba wasn’t far from dropping to its first league loss at Turner against Beitar, with coach Barak Bachar admitting his team rode its luck.“We were very close to losing against a team that put us on the back foot,” said Bachar. “We weren’t good enough and that is why we were punished. We are now facing two matches against Kiryat Shmona in the cup and the league and we will see where we can improve.”Beersheba, which will return to Kiryat Shmona next Sunday in league play, will likely have to manage on Wednesday without Nigerian forward Anthony Nawkaeme, who is carrying a knee injury.Ben Bitton and Maharan Radi, who didn’t play on Sunday, could be handed a starting role, while Nigerian midfielder John Ogu is available to return after serving a four-match suspension.