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The breakthrough of midfielder Or Dasa has been one of the rare bright spots in Maccabi Tel Aviv’s frustrating season to date, with the yellow-and-blue hoping to give itself something to smile about when it faces Ironi Kiryat Shmona in the Toto Cup semifinals tonight. .(Photo by: DANNY MAROM)
Mac TA looks to lift gloom in Toto Cup
Yellow-and-blue hoping to gather momentum with progress to final of 2nd cup competition.
It is a testament to Maccabi Tel Aviv’s struggles this season that Wednesday night’s Toto Cup semifinal against Ironi Kiryat Shmona has taken on such importance.

The group stage of the Toto Cup, played prior to the start of the Premier League campaign, is treated as nothing more than a pre-season competition.

Clubs the likes of Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Beersheba, who also play in Europe, generally use makeshift lineups in what is for them a glorified scrimmage, at least until they happen to reach the latter stages.

When Maccabi Tel Aviv beat Bnei Yehuda 3-0 in the quarterfinals one month ago, it surely never imagined that the semifinal against Kiryat Shmona would go from being a possible distraction to a match it must win to pick up some much-needed confidence.

The month of November hasn’t gone according to plan for the yellow-and-blue.

In the Europa League, a 1-0 home loss to Astana ended the team’s chances of qualifying for the round-of-32, and the 2-0 defeat to Slavia Prague in Netanya left Maccabi in danger of becoming the first team in the history of the competition to end a group campaign without scoring a single goal.

Maccabi edged Hapoel Ra’anana 1-0 in Premier League action at the start of the month, but once more struggled to gather momentum when it could only manage a 2-2 draw at Hapoel Haifa on Sunday.

Nevertheless, the yellowand- blue is still only three points back of leaders Haifa and Hapoel Beersheba and is hoping progress to the Toto Cup final can help kick-start an extended winning streak.

“It is a cup that sometimes when you lose you might say: ‘It is only the Toto Cup.’But the year we won we were all celebrating, so it is a cup we want to win,” said Maccabi coach Jordi Cruyff ahead of the clash that will be played in Acre.

Maccabi last won the Toto Cup in 2014/2015, going on to claim an unprecedented local treble with league and State Cup triumphs.

Kiryat Shmona, which won the Toto Cup in 2011 and 2012, has found its form over recent weeks, beating Bnei Yehuda 2-1 on Saturday to climb up to sixth place in the league standings.

In the second semifinal, Hapoel Beersheba faces Maccabi Haifa in Netanya on Thursday.

Beersheba won the Toto Cup last season, with its dream of joining the Maccabi Tel Aviv side of 2014/15 as the only teams to claim the championship, State Cup and Toto Cup in a single season ultimately ending at the hands of Kiryat Shmona in the State Cup round-of-16.

Beersheba is aiming to bounce back from the stoppage- time equalizer that saw it draw 2-2 at Beitar Jerusalem on Monday, leaving it in second place behind Hapoel Haifa on goal difference.

On TV: Toto Cup semifinals: Ironi Kiryat Shmona vs Maccabi Tel Aviv (live on Sport5 at 8:15 p.m.)
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