For first time ever, Mac Haifa, Hap TA duel for State Cup
Having already claimed the Premier League title, Haifa is one victory away from just a second league and cup double in club history.
By ALLON SINAI
Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Tel Aviv will be playing for far more than a trophy when they clash in the State Cup final at National Stadium in Ramat Gan on Wednesday night.Haifa and Tel Aviv have won 18 cups between them, playing in 34 total finals since the inaugural competition in 1928.However, unbelievably, Wednesday marks the first time the two Israeli giants will be facing each other in the title match, adding further intrigue to an already mouthwatering showdown.Having already claimed the Premier League title for the seventh time in 11 years last week, Haifa is one victory away from just a second league and cup double in club history and a first since the 1990/91 season.Winning the championship is always an outstanding achievement, but coach Elisha Levy knows that this season will only be remembered as one of the greatest in Haifa history if the team goes on to claim a victory on Wednesday.“The two best teams in the country will be meeting in the final and I’m sure it will be a very interesting match,” Levy said on Tuesday.“If we win the double we will be remembered as one of the great Haifa teams. It is not easy to win the double and I’m sure that if we do so we will go down in history.”AdvertisementHapoel is set to go through a complete overhaul in the offseason, with coach Eli Gutman and six starters likely to leave. Following its failure to defend its championship from last season, Hapoel captain and former Haifa defender Walid Badier understands that Wednesday’s result will go a long way to deciding if this campaign will be regarded as a success.“This is the match of the season,” Badier said. “Even though we lost the championship we have had a good season, reaching the Champions League group stage. This match is extremely important to us and we will give our soul for the club.”The three league meetings this season between the two dominant forces in Israeli soccer in recent years all played out in distinctively different fashions.Haifa controlled the proceedings when it hosted the Reds in November, but Hapoel made the most of its chances on its way to a 2-0 win. Tel Aviv then thrashed the Greens 4-1 at Bloomfield Stadium in February for a third consecutive league victory over Haifa, only to be completely outplayed in a 2-0 defeat at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium three-and-a-half weeks ago.Haifa leapfrogged Hapoel into first place with that win and would stay there until the end of the season. As a result, Gutman believes the Greens are the favorites in the final.“We are looking forward to this match and may the best team win,” Gutman said. “Haifa is entering the match with momentum on its side and because it won the championship it deserves to be the favorite.However, I wouldn’t discount my players in one match where the winner takes all.”Despite facing the prospect of ending the season without silverware, Gutman believes that this has been a successful campaign.“I don’t think that a team which beat Benfica and drew 2-2 with Lyon in the Champions League can have its season labeled as a failure,” he said.Gutman will be without midfielder Gili Vermut and central defender Mario Pecalka for the sold-out final, with right-back Danny Bondarv also a doubt.Levy, on the other hand, has a full squad from which to select his lineup and is confident his team can end its 13-year cup drought on Wednesday.“There was a great feeling of satisfaction after we clinched the league title, especially after what happened last year,” he said.“However, we must leave everything that happened behind us and focus on the final. We know Hapoel very well and they also know all about us. This is a match from which there is no return.”
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