Local Soccer: Haifa, Sakhnin reach Toto cup final

Both sides win their semifinals on penalties, overcoming Betar Jerusalem and Bnei Yehuda respectively.

Maccabi Haifa 224.88 (photo credit: Berney Ardov)
Maccabi Haifa 224.88
(photo credit: Berney Ardov)
Maccabi Haifa and Bnei Sakhnin battled through to the Toto Cup final in dramatic fashion on Wednesday night after both sides won their semifinals on penalties. It was an afternoon and evening of excitement and passion at the National Stadium in Ramat Gan which hosted a double header where Haifa overcame Betar Jerusalem just hours after Sakhnin had knocked Bnei Yehuda out of the competition. Haifa's Brazilian midfielder Paulinho scored the winning penalty kick for the Greens in a marathon shoot out which Maccabi finally won 8-7. Betar had played with ten men for the majority of the game, which finished 2-2 after extra time, following Tomer Ben-Yosef's red card in the 21st minute. In the earlier match, Ilia Yavorian was the hero for Sakhnin when he fired in the fourth penalty to put his team 3-1 up. Zev Haimovitch missed for Bnei Yehuda and the team from the Galil were through to the final. The sides had canceled each other out over 120 minutes with the score at 1-1. Police had no doubt been preparing themselves for a potentially fiery encounter between arch rivals Betar and Sakhnin in next Wednesday's final, especially after the yellow and black went 1-0 up through a controversial Idan Tal penalty 16 minutes into the second semifinal. However it was not to be for the Jerusalem side, which had been hoping to set up the first leg of a potentially historic Premier League, State Cup and Toto Cup treble - a feat which has never been achieved in Israeli soccer. Haifa had dominated the early exchanges in a pulsating match where both Renato and fellow striker Oshri Gita went close in the opening minutes. Then the controversy began. Although Shai Maimon appeared to pull down Romulo in the area with just over a quarter of an hour gone, replays showed the Betar center forward may have simply slipped. No matter. Tal stepped up and coolly slotted home, scoring his second penalty in four days. Ben-Yosef's sending off six minutes later was somewhat harsh on the league champion. The center back had clearly fouled Renato well outside the penalty area as he dribbled towards the goal. But Ben-Yosef was not the last man as defender Yoav Ziv was behind him and a yellow card would have been more appropriate. Betar seemed rattled by the decision and Haifa began piling on the pressure. Shimon Gershon was brought on to shore up the defense in place of striker Amit Ben-Shushan, but it was still difficult for his team to hold Haifa back. Lior Rafaelov hit the crossbar for Maccabi with a scintillating volley from inside the area just over five minutes before the end of the first half. A minute later Shai Maimon pulled the Greens level, knocking the ball past Tvrtko Kale from a Rafaelov cross. The second half saw more Haifa attacks and Betar penned back, despite the hard work of Gal Alberman and Derek Boateng in midfield. But it was the yellow and black which went ahead when Gal Alberman scored a bizarre goal, deflecting a Nir Davidovitch goalkick back into the goal from the edge of the penalty area with his studs. Haifa was not finished though. With a quarter of an hour left of normal time Renato made it 2-2 with a well taken shot 15 meters out of the goal which flew over Kale. Extra time was tense but there were few chances. Substitute Tomer Hemed nearly won it for Haifa with just two minutes left of extra time when he curled in a fine effort but Kale produced and equally impressive diving save to tip the ball over the bar and penalties ensued. The Sakhnin vs Bnei Yehuda game was a little less exciting. The first goal came in the 34th minute. After a good team move which cut through the Bnei Yehuda defense, Colombian John Colme crossed the ball from the left and Yavorian knocked it past goalkeeper Dele Aiyegnuba. Bnei Yehuda equalized a half hour before the end with what was essentially its first chance of the game. After some skillful dribbling in the area by Moshe Biton which evaded the Sakhnin defense, the midfielder set up Eli Biton who slid in on the goal line to knock the ball into the net. There were no goals in extra time forcing penalty kicks.