Local Soccer: Betar, Hapoel ready for classic final

Jerusalem aims for historic double, Tel Aviv for third straight State Cup win.

Hapoel Betar 224.88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Hapoel Betar 224.88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Regardless of the outcome of the State Cup final between Betar Jerusalem and Hapoel Tel Aviv, history will be made at a sold-out National Stadium in Ramat Gan on Tuesday night. Betar, which has never claimed a league and cup double, is on the verge of clinching a second straight Premier League title, and hasn't lifted the cup in 19 years since getting the better of Maccabi Haifa on penalties in 1989. Hapoel can become the first team in 69 years and just the third in history to claim three consecutive cups, joining the Hapoel Tel Aviv teams, which took the title from 1937 to 1939, and the British Royal Air Force sides, which hoisted the cup five consecutive times between 1923 and 1927. Despite the fact Jerusalem is leading the league table and Tel Aviv has yet to secure its top-flight status, Betar enters Tuesday's encounter in its worst slump of the season, while Hapoel is playing its best soccer of the year. Itzhak Schum's men have lost three straight matches, including defeats to two of the league's three bottom sides - Ashdod SC and Bnei Yehuda - in the last two weeks. Betar was also beaten 3-1 by Hapoel last month and in recent weeks has desperately lacked the passion and purpose which saw it dominate the league earlier in the season. The yellow and black, which got the better of Bnei Sakhnin, Ahi Nazareth and Hapoel Kfar Saba on its way to the last four of the cup, was also far from convincing against Maccabi Netanya in the semis four weeks ago. But Schum is confident recent form will be of no consequence in Tuesday's crunch match. "The cup final has nothing to do with past or future results," Schum said at a press conference on Monday. "Hapoel has won its last two matches and we have lost our last two, but I'm still quite certain that any team in the country would be happy to trade places with us. "I think the Betar players are experienced enough to not be effected by the fact they're entering the game following a loss." Gal Alberman, Michael Zandberg and Cristian Alvarez have all struggled with their fitness in recent weeks, but Schum is certain none of his players will forgo the opportunity to play in Israeli soccer's biggest match. "Not all my players are fully fit for the match, but I'm sure they will all be willing to receive injections to help them play in the final. This is one of those matches you do all you can to take part in," Schum said. Betar and Hapoel have met in the cup final twice in the past, with Tel Aviv winning both the 1999 and 2000 installments on penalties. "Betar has a long tradition and the players know all about the rivalry against Hapoel," said Arik Benado, who will captain Jerusalem on Tuesday. "The team is under pressure, but that's only natural as this is the cup final. The pressure, however, is not necessarily a bad thing as it can also help you play at your best." Hapoel all but secured itself another season of Premier League soccer with its 1-0 defeat of Bnei Sakhnin on Saturday, its third league win in four matches. Eli Gutman's team made the most of a favorable draw in the cup, beating Upper Nazareth, Hapoel Beer Sheba and Bnei Yehuda in the first three rounds before needing a penalty shoot-out to get the better of third division Betar/Shimshon Tel Aviv in the semis. "We've been through an arduous season and the cup has been a nice distraction," Gutman said. "Hapoel has shown constant improvement in recent weeks, with the players displaying their character and maturity. It's not easy to win the matches these players won. "The cup final, however, has nothing to do with league form and Tuesday's match will unfold in its own unique way."