Local Soccer: Hapoel hosts Betar in cup classic

Amsalem’s Jerusalem team aiming to salvage season tonight with win in Tel Aviv.

Hapoel TA Betar 311 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Hapoel TA Betar 311
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Hapoel Tel Aviv and Betar Jerusalem have split the last four State Cups, and though the two teams will only be meeting in the quarterfinals on Tuesday night, the winner of the mouthwatering showdown at Bloomfield Stadium will be a clear favorite to go on and lift the trophy once more.
Betar is hoping to become the first team in 71 years to claim three consecutive cups, two years after denying Hapoel that distinction with a penalty shootout victory at National Stadium in Ramat Gan.
Hapoel and Betar have met each other in the cup three times in the past 11 years, with each of the matches played in the final and all decided on penalties.
In 1999 and 2000, Tel Aviv triumphed before Betar claimed the most recent shootout two years ago before winning a second straight cup with a 2-1 victory over Maccabi Haifa in last season’s final.
No club has won three consecutive cups since the Hapoel Tel Aviv squads, which took the titles from 1937 to 1939.
The first team to win the trophy on three straight occasions was the British Royal Air Force, which hoisted the cup five consecutive times between 1923 and 1927.
Despite a rocky season and a 1-0 home defeat to Maccabi Tel Aviv in the league on Saturday night, Betar coach David Amsalem is confident his team is capable of beating the red-hot Hapoel and moving to within two wins of history.
“It is a shame we lost our final league match before the cup tie, but we must know how to lift ourselves and put the game against Maccabi behind us,” Amsalem said.
“We have been playing well recently and this one defeat doesn’t change that. We will lift the players and we will be ready to advance to the semifinals.”
Hapoel has been in blistering form for much of the season and especially in recent weeks. Eli Gutman’s team has won seven of its last eight Premier League matches, cutting the gap to league-leader Maccabi Haifa to a mere three points with five games to be played.
Itai Shechter and Gili Vermut have been particularly sensational, with striker Shechter scoring his 30th goal in all competitions in the 3-1 win over Hapoel Ramat Gan on Saturday, while playmaker Vermut registered his league-leading 15th assist of the campaign.
“The match against Betar is a world war,” said Shechter, who scored one of his team’s goals in Hapoel’s 4-3 victory over Betar when the sides last met in January. “I believe that with the support of our fans we can claim the win and reach the semis.”
Betar will be without the suspended Kobi Moyal and the injured Aviram Bruchian, Idan Vered and Paolo de la Hasa, leaving Amsalem with a dilemma of who to play in the midfield. He is believed to be considering moving left back Avi Rakan up to play in a holding role.
Maharn Lala and Zurab Menteshashvili have recovered from their injuries and will be available for Gutman, who has no new injury concerns ahead on Tuesday.
The match at Bloomfield is understandably attracting most of theattention, but three more quarterfinal encounters will be played onTuesday and Wednesday.
National League club Ironi Ramat Hasharonwill be looking to claim its second Premier League scalp of the seasonwhen it hosts Maccabi Petah Tikva on Tuesday.
Petah Tikva has won the cup twice in its history, but not since 1952.
OnWednesday, Ashdod SC hosts second-division Hapoel Upper Nazareth andBnei Yehuda visits Hapoel Ramat Gan, which knocked out Maccabi Haifa inthe last 16.