Mac Haifa flying as State Cup semis set to kick off

Hapoel Ramat Gan remained in the relegation zone after only managing a 0-0 draw with rock-bottom Maccabi Netanya on Saturday.

Soccer 370 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Soccer 370
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
After 15 years, everything seems to be in place for Maccabi Haifa to finally lift the State Cup.
Despite winning seven Premier League championships since the turn of the century, the cup has escaped Haifa’s grasp time and again since 1998.
Over that period, the Greens have reached four finals, including three of the past four, but have come up short each and every time.
With Haifa in scintillating form over recent months and with none of the other traditional big guns progressing to Wednesday’s semifinals, the cup drought finally seems set to come to an end.
Haifa has lost just once over its past 21 league matches since Arik Benado replaced Reuven Atar as coach, winning 17 of its games over that stretch, but only drawing 2-2 at Hapoel Tel Aviv on Saturday.
Benado’s men face Ironi Kiryat Shmona in Wednesday’s second semi at National Stadium in Ramat Gan following the match between Hapoel Ramat Gan and Hapoel Rishon Lezion of the National League.
Haifa beat Kiryat Shmona 3-2 when the teams met in league action 11 days ago, with the Greens remaining 10 points behind top-of-the-table Maccabi Tel Aviv after Saturday’s stalemate with Hapoel.
“We want to end the season with a title, but we are facing a very difficult match against Kiryat Shmona,” Benado said.
Kiryat Shmona looks set to end the season in fourth place after beating Hapoel Ramat Hasharon 1-0 on Saturday, opening a four-point gap over Bnei Yehuda in fifth.
Over 15,000 Haifa fans are expected in Ramat Gan on Wednesday, with 3,000 supporters to make the long journey from Kiryat Shmona.
“We always believe in ourselves, especially after the tight defeat to Haifa in the league,” said Kiryat Shmona captain Adrian Rochet.
“Winning the cup would be an amazing achievement for Kiryat Shmona. We’ve experienced many ups and downs this season and winning the cup would cement Kiryat Shmona’s place in Israeli soccer.”
Hapoel Ramat Gan remained in the relegation zone after only managing a 0-0 draw with rock-bottom Maccabi Netanya on Saturday.
With just three matches remaining in its league campaign, Ramat Gan is far more concerned with securing another season in the top flight than it is with winning a second cup in club history after lifting the trophy in 2003.
Rishon, which knocked out cup-holder Hapoel Tel Aviv in the quarterfinals, is currently in sixth place in the National League and has lost all hope of gaining promotion to the Premier League.
“Our squad is built around young players so it is only natural that they are very excited ahead of Wednesday,” said Rishon coach Eyal Lachman, who led Bnei Sakhnin to the cup in 2004, but is suspended from the semis.
“However, the players have come through stern tests all season and I believe they will do so once more.”