State Cup Soccer: Hapoel Tel Aviv closes in on double

Reds make easy work of Ramat Hasharon in Cup semis; Bnei Yehuda wins on penalties.

Hapoel Tel Aviv Itai Schechter 311 (photo credit: BSL)
Hapoel Tel Aviv Itai Schechter 311
(photo credit: BSL)
Hapoel Tel Aviv’s dream of claiming an historic Premier League and State Cup double moved one step closer to realization on Tuesday night.
Tel Aviv defeated Ironi Ramat Hahsaron of the National League 3-1 at National Stadium in Ramat Gan to advance to the State Cup final where it will face Bnei Yehuda next Tuesday in a repeat of the 2006 final won by Hapoel.
Bnei Yehuda beat Ashdod SC 4-3 on penalties in the first semifinal of the day, with the score tied at 1-1 after 90 minutes and extra time.
Meanwhile, the rampant Hapoel, which leads the Premier League standings after winning 12 of its last 13 matches, had little trouble overcoming a spirited Ramat Hasharon effort and will be aiming for its third cup in five years next week.
“I am very satisfied with my team’s effort,” Hapoel coach Eli Gutman said. “We reached the final and we will now focus on Saturday’s derby.” 
Bnei Yehuda, which hasn’t lifted the cup since 1981, took the lead through a Liroy Zhairi goal in the 37th minute, but was pegged back by Stephane Kingue’s strike (52) and the match had to be decided on spot kicks.
After one miss each the shootout came down to the sides’ fifth kickers.
And moments after Eliran Atar scored, Rahamim Tzukul blasted his attempt over the bar and Bnei Yehuda progressed.
“I said from the start of the season that we want to win the cup and we are close to completing our goal,” Bnei Yehuda coach Guy Luzon said.
Ashdod coach Yossi Mizrahi was understandably disappointed. “Penalties are like roulette and there’s no crueler way to lose,” he said. “Bnei Yehuda was the luckier team and that’s why it advanced.”   
Hapoel Tel Aviv 3, Ironi Ramat Hasharon 1
Tel Aviv dominated the possession from the start, but struggled to create clear-cut chances. The Reds finally made the breakthrough in the 26th minute after Itai Shechter’s header was spilled by Ramat Hasharon ’keeper Menahem Koretzki and Hapoel’s top scorer smashed in the rebound.
Tel Aviv doubled its lead 13 minutes later, once more courtesy of some poor play by Koretzki. The Ramat Hasharon shot stopper punched the ball straight at Gili Vermut and the midfield magician slotted the ball into the bottom left corner from the edge of the box.
It looked as if Tel Aviv would run riot, but to the amazement of everyone on hand Ramat Hasharon fought back. After missing a couple of opportunities the underdogs scored a deserved equalizer one minute from the break through a Dudu Avraham volley. 
Hapoel was determined to regain a two-goal cushion as soon as possible and it needed just 11 second half minutes to all but clinch the win.
Referee Shai Shitrit spotted a handball in the Ramat Hasharon box and Tel Aviv ‘keeper Vincent Enyeama converted the spot kick to open an unassailable lead.
Bnei Yehuda 1, Ashdod SC 1 (Bnei Yehuda wins 4-3 on penalties)
While the earlier semifinal of the day got off to a lively start both teams only had the occasional chance. Bnei Yehuda would, however, make the most of its opportunity, with Asi Baldut finding Zhairi in the box and the midfielder finishing off the move from close range to give his team the breakthrough after eight minutes before half-time.
Ashdod had little to write home about after the first half, butMizrahi’s half-time talk did his players the world of good and the sidefrom South was a different team at the start of the second half. Sevenminutes after the break, Bnei Yehuda failed to clear a corner andKingue pounced to blast in the equalizer. The remainder of the half waslargely uneventful, and with neither side willing to risk sendingplayers forward, the encounter was destined to go into extra time.
The teams could still not be separated after
another 30 minutes and the winner would have to be decided onpenalties. Oz Raly sent Dragan Stojkic the wrong way to give BneiYehuda the lead and Luzon’s team was in the driving seat after DeleAiyenugba saved Idan Sade’s poor effort.
Kfir Edri, Amir Lavi, Moshe Biton and Marko Popovic all scored in thesubsequent kick, but Aviv Haddad blasted his shot over the crossbarwith Bnei Yehuda leading 3-2 and Moshe Ohayon tied the score for Ashdodseconds later.
Atar slotted in Bnei Yehuda’s fifth penalty and he was soon celebratingwith his teammates after Tzukul ballooned the most important shot ofhis life.