Mac Haifa, Hap TA to vie for State Cup title

Encore final as Katan boosts Greens over Ashdod, Reds blank Hasharon in extra time.

Yaniv Katan of Maccabi Haifa 370 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Yaniv Katan of Maccabi Haifa 370
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Tel Aviv will meet in the State Cup final for a second straight year after overcoming thorough examinations in Wednesday’s semifinals at National Stadium in Ramat Gan.
A splendid solo goal by Haifa’s Yaniv Katan gave the Greens a 2-1 victory over Ashdod SC in the second semifinal of the night, with Tel Aviv needing extra time to defeat Ironi Ramat Hasharon 3- 0 in the first semi.
Both Haifa and Tel Aviv will be desperate to salvage something from what has been a disappointing season when they meet in the final on May 15.
Despite winning seven Premier League championships since the turn of the century, Haifa is without a cup triumph since 1998, while Hapoel will be hoping to become the first team in 73 years to lift the cup three years in a row after advancing to its sixth final in the past seven seasons.
Last year, Hapoel beat Haifa 1-0 in the final through a goal from Salim Toama.
Haifa made the breakthrough in the 30th minute, with Dele Yampolsky’s shot from 20 meters out taking a wicked deflection off Nir Biton’s leg and dipping into the back of the net over the head of helpless Ashdod ’keeper Ofir Marziano.
However, Haifa’s lead lasted just four minutes, with Biton heading in the equalizer from a trademark David Revivo free kick.
Haifa squandered chances to move back in front before the break, but it needed just five second half minutes to regain its advantage.
A superb run by Katan ended with the captain sending a pin-point shot from the edge of the box into the top left corner off the underside of the crossbar.
Haifa had its chances to secure the win and very nearly lived to regret missing them when Ashdod’s Rodgers Kola found himself with just goalkeeper Nir Davidovich to beat in the third minute of stoppage time, only to blast his shot high above target.
It took Ramat Hasharon just 45 seconds to reach the first scoring opportunity in the first semifinal of the day.
Yossi Ofir’s long ball found Ognjen Damjanovic with time and space and only Hapoel goalkeeper Apoula Edel to beat, but the Serbian inexplicably took far too long on the ball and ultimately had his shot blocked by Marko Suler.
The underdog squandered yet another golden chance seven minutes later, with Tomer Swisa somehow failing to find the target with his header from Baruch Dego’s cross.
There was little to report from the remainder of the first half, with Hapoel especially poor, lacking any kind of conviction up front.
Tel Aviv showed a slight improvement after the break, but it wasn’t until the 68th minute that it forced Ramat Hasharon ‘keeper Gal Nir to make a save.
Avihai Yadin, returning from a two month suspension for his part in the unrest that followed the Tel Aviv derby at the start of March, sent an accurate effort from the edge of the area, but Nir did well to clear the ball for a corner.
Nir had to be alert to clear the danger from Maharan Lala eight minutes later and the match went into extra time after Toto Tamuz released a weak effort with only the ‘keeper to beat with 10 minutes to play.
The goal finally arrived six minutes into extra time, with Mirko Oremus crossing from the right and Omer Damari making up for his poor performance until that stage with an unstoppable header.
Hapoel clinched its progress in the 105th minute, with Tamuz beating two Ramat Hasharon players before firing past Nir, who got his hands on the ball but couldn’t prevent it from rolling into the back of the net.
Salim Toama put the icing on the cake three minutes from the end of extra time, releasing a left-footed bullet from the edge of the area which gave Nir no chance.
“We should have finished the match off before extra time, but Ramat Hasharon made it tough for us,” Hapoel coach Nitzan Shirazi said.
“We also made life difficult for ourselves and didn’t play with enough drive. It took us some time, but our patience eventually paid off.”