Maccabi manhandles Hapoel in Haifa derby

Rafaelov’s pair propels league-leading Greens into State Cup semi; K8, Netanya also advance.

Lior Rafaelov 311 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Lior Rafaelov 311
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
A Lior Rafaelov brace helped Maccabi Haifa to a 3-1 victory over Hapoel Haifa in the quarterfinals of the State Cup at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium on Wednesday night, taking the Greens to within two wins of a first cup triumph since 1998.
While Maccabi has dominated the Premier League over much of the past decade, winning six of the past 10 championships, Jacob Shahar’s club has recorded little success in the cup since the turn of the century.
Maccabi has only reached the final at National Stadium in Ramat Gan twice since the last time it lifted the trophy 13 years ago, losing in 2002 and 2009.
The last time a Haifa derby was played in the cup, Hapoel ended Maccabi’s hopes of a league and cup double, winning in a penalty shootout in the 2005 last 16 .
However, despite trailing to Eden Ben-Basat’s 30th minute penalty on Wednesday, the Greens came back to claim a well-deserved victory thanks to goals from Idan Vered (38) and Rafaelov (59, 71).
“I’m delighted we won tonight,” said Rafaelov, whose team also holds a two-point lead at the top of the league standings and is still dreaming of winning the double for the first time since 1991.
“We are facing a very critical month. We learned from last season and we are far more ready this time.”
Haifa will be joined in the semis by Hapoel Tel Aviv, which beat Betar Jerusalem 1-0 on Tuesday, and Ironi Kiryat Shmona and Maccabi Netanya, who came through some tense moments to advance to the last four on Wednesday.
At Kiryat Eliezer, the hosts got off to an encouraging start and took the lead in the 30th minute when Ben- Basat scored from the spot after being brought down in the box by Shai Maimon.
However, Hapoel’s lead lasted for just eight minutes, with Vered equalizing with a superb volley that left goalkeeper Tvrtko Kale rooted to his spot.
In the 59th minute, Maccabi moved into the lead.
Rafaelov’s shot hit Oshri Roash’s hand and the midfielder stepped up to convert the spot kick and complete the comeback.
Rafaelov clinched the victory 12 minutes later, firing an exquisite volley into the bottom left corner to maintain Maccbai’s stranglehold on the local derby.
Earlier Wednesday, Kiryat Shmona dominated its match at Hapoel Ra’anana, the last remaining National League club in the competition, but had to wait until the 59th minute before it scored the winner in the 1-0 victory.
Wiyam Amashe picked the ball up just past the halfway line and surged forward untouched before releasing an unstoppable effort from the edge of the area.
The visitors had little trouble holding on to their lead in the remainder of the match and progressed to the cup semis for the first time in club history, continuing a dream season, which has already seen the team lift the Toto Cup and enter the Premier League championship playoffs in fourth place.
“We played outstanding soccer,” Kiryat Shmona coach Ran Ben-Shimon said. “We might not have managed to translate our performance to goals, but this was a convincing display.”
Netanya also controlled its home match against Ashdod SC, but the hosts needed a penalty shootout before they eventually advanced to the semis.
New Ashdod coach Yossi Mizrahi, who began his third tenure at the club after replacing John Gregory on Tuesday, didn’t make any significant changes to the lineup, but the players were clearly affected by having a new coach at the helm.
Dimitar Makriev gave Ashdod the lead after just five minutes, translating his team’s early pressure into a goal after a mistake by Netanya defender Mariano Caporale.
Ashdod could have increased its lead in the remainder of the first half, but its failure to do so would come back to haunt it after the break.
Netanya seized control of the field and began to threaten Ashdod’s goal on a consistent basis.
The equalizer finally arrived 10 minutes from time, with Nir Nahum putting through Firas Mugrabi, who coolly slotted the ball under Ashdod ’keeper Ofir Marziano.
Netanya should have clinched the win before extra-time, but Dele Yampolsky squandered a golden opportunity in the 90th minute.
The hosts were the far more dangerous team in extra-time as well, coming centimeters away from taking the lead in the 103rd minute when Mugrabi hit the post with his shot.
Netanya supporters were surely worried their team’s inability to convert its chances would come back to bite it, but the hosts would dominate the penalty shootout, with goalkeeper Carlos Arias saving two spot kicks and captain Orel Dgani converting his side’s fourth attempt to clinch a 4-1 win.
“This win makes our Chag very happy,” said Netanya coach Reuven Atar, who has exceeded all expectations this season, guiding his team to the cup semis just days after taking it to the championship playoffs.
“We played horrendously in the first half, but our substitutions made the difference and I’m delighted to see my players so happy.”