State Cup Soccer: Final fever - Atar expects a classic

Maccabi Haifa faces Betar Jerusalem in State Cup final tonight aiming to secure double.

Maccabi Haifa 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Maccabi Haifa 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
If the last time Maccabi Haifa and Betar Jerusalem met in the State Cup final is anything to go by, then Tuesday's showdown at National Stadium in Ramat Gan promises to be a real classic. Haifa entered the 1989 cup final as champion, just like it will Tuesday's final, and was looking for what would have then been a first league and cup double in club history. Betar was hoping to ruin the party and end its season on a high, and what unfolded was one of the greatest finals Israeli soccer has ever seen. Just four years earlier Jerusalem had denied Haifa the double, thanks to Eli Ohana's late goal, but this time Maccabi got off to a much better start and led at the break after Reuven Atar, the current Betar coach, scored in the 14th minute. Uri Malmilian equalized in the 48th minute and Avi Cohen's goal 25 minutes later seemed to have given Jerusalem the cup. However, a stupendous stoppage time goal by Ofer Mizrahi sent the match into extra-time and kept Haifa's double hopes alive. Cohen put Betar in front once more four minutes into extra-time, and despite Atar's equalizer Jerusalem went on to lift the cup with a 4-3 victory in a penalty shoot-out. "The last time Haifa and Betar met in the final was 20 years ago and anyone who watched that match will never forget it," Atar said on Monday. "It was a classic final and I'm certain this year's final will be unforgettable as well." Haifa enters Tuesday's match brimming with confidence after clinching the Premier League title with a 2-0 victory at Maccabi Netanya on Saturday, and coach Elisha Levy is optimistic his team can claim a second double in club history and a first since 1991. "This is a classic final between two strong sides and the most important thing is that the fans get to see attractive soccer," Levy said. "Winning the championship should help us be calm and composed ahead of the final. It's not every season that you get the chance to win the double and we will give our all to make the most of this opportunity." Haifa is hoping to end its 11-year cup drought against Betar, which only last season won its first cup since the famous 1989 final. Both league meetings between the teams ended in draws, with the third and final league match between the two to be played this weekend, and Levy is expecting a tight match once more on Tuesday. "Haifa and Betar are both entering the final in good shape and in this type of match there is no favorite," Levy said. Haifa's 38-year-old captain Alon Harazi was part of the Maccabi team which won the double 18 years ago, and is desperate to do so once more on Tuesday. "A long time has passed since I won the double in 1991," Harazi said. "I want to experience this special sensation once more." Atar was Harazi's teammate in 1991, but his feelings towards Haifa will be irrelevant as he tries to guide Betar to a second straight cup triumph. "Our team is hungry for a title," Atar said. "After going through such a tumultuous season and losing our league crown we want to win the cup." Betar defender, Arik Benado, who is also a former Haifa player, admitted that facing Maccabi is always a special occasion and reiterated his coach's words regarding Jerusalem's determination to end the season with a title. "It's very important to the club that we win the cup," Benado said. "It's always strange for me to face Haifa, but I'm in my third season at Betar and I will do everything to ensure this club wins the match. The fans deserve this after such a difficult season."