Greens, Reds look to salvage season with title

Underachieving Mac Haifa, Hap TA clash in State Cup final for second straight year.

Hapoel Tel Aviv's OMER DAMARI 370 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Hapoel Tel Aviv's OMER DAMARI 370
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Maccabi Haifa will look to achieve something it hasn’t managed since 1998, while Hapoel Tel Aviv will aim to equal an accomplishment last pulled off 73 years ago when the two giants of Israeli soccer clash in the State Cup final at National Stadium in Ramat Gan on Tuesday night.
Haifa has been the team to beat in local soccer since the turn of the century, winning seven championships over the past 12 seasons.
However, it hasn’t lifted the cup in 14 years since defeating Hapoel Jerusalem 2-0 in extra-time in the 1998 final.
The Greens have lost in three finals since, including twice in the past three years, falling 1-0 to Hapoel Tel Aviv last season.
Saturday’s 1-1 draw between Haifa and Hapoel left the Greens in a disappointing fifth place at the end of the Premier League season, meaning they must lift the cup in order to qualify for European competition for a fourth consecutive year.
“It would be a massive disappointment should we fail to reach Europe,” said Levy, who will be guiding Haifa for the last time after four seasons at the helm which yielded two championships, two previous cup finals and participation in the group stages of the Champions League and Europa League.
“In our last two defeats in the final we came in fresh off winning the league title while now we are especially hungry for this triumph. We have no choice but to win. I’m sure the players will give their all. We need to maintain the club’s standards and reach Europe. I hope to accomplish the one thing to have escaped me in my four years at Haifa.”
Tel Aviv has already secured its place in continental competition for a seventh straight season by virtue of finishing the league campaign as runner-up behind champion Ironi Kiryat Shmona.
However, Hapoel has its sights set on a truly historic landmark on Tuesday.
Hapoel can become the first team in 73 years, and just the third in the history of Israeli soccer, to claim three consecutive cups, joining the amateur Hapoel Tel Aviv teams which took the title from 1937 to 1939 and the British Royal Air Force sides that hoisted the trophy five consecutive times between 1923 and 1927.
“Not many teams have a chance to make such history,” said Hapoel coach Nitzan Shirazi. “We have got this opportunity and that only adds to our commitment to give our all in this match. I hope we can channel this pressure in the right direction and win the cup.”
Hapoel fans are expected to continue their protest against owner Eli Tabib, who has put the club up for sale, but Shirazi is hoping that offfield issues will be put aside for one night.
“We would have been happy to not be in this situation, but I think that none of this is relevant to the final,” the coach said.
“I think it says a lot about this club that even with everything that has been going on we managed to finish second in the league and we are in the cup final again.”
Shirazi will have an almost full squad at his disposal, with Shay Abutbul and Omri Kende out, but striker Toto Tamuz expected to shake his injury and play.
Haifa was sweating over the fitness of captain Yaniv Katan after he limped out of Saturday’s match with an ankle injury, but the 30-year-old has no intention of missing the final.
“I’ve had many beautiful experiences with Haifa, but I have yet to win the cup,” said Katan, who has been playing for the Greens since the 1998/99 season.
“Had this not been the cup final I would have probably not played, but Haifa has good doctors and they will make sure I can contribute. I’m an important part of the team, but Haifa has a lot of good players. We must win this match. We have no other choice. It is about time we lift the cup.”