State Cup Soccer: Maccabi Haifa, Betar squeeze into final

Greens overcome Netanya in dramatic penalty shootout; Betar edges Hakoach in injury time.

maccabi haifa maccabi netanya 248 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
maccabi haifa maccabi netanya 248
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Maccabi Haifa and Betar Jerusalem made it through to the State Cup final in dramatic fashion on Wednesday night, knocking out Maccabi Netanya and Hakoach Amidar Ramat Gan, respectively, in a doubleheader in front of 40,000 fans at National Stadium in Ramat Gan. Betar needed a late own goal from Hakoach's Israel Rosh to give it a 2-1 win and ensure its hopes of retaining the title it won last year continue. Haifa, meanwhile overcame Netanya on penalties after an injury time equalizer by South African midfielder Nkosi Siobonga cancelled out Eyal Meshumar's 68th minute strike. Ukranian-born American Leonard Krupnik was the hero for the Greens when he scored his team's seventh penalty of the shoot out and then saw Tal Maabi's effort saved by Nir Davidovitch. The result sets up a final on May 26 between two of the biggest names in Israeli soccer and means Haifa's dream of a second league and cup double in its history is still alive. It also ended Netanya coach Lothar Matthaus's expectation of winning any title for his team, with the German World Cup winner due to leave the club at the end of the season. "It is very disappointing to lose in penalty kicks. The luck was on Haifa's side." Matthaus said. Jerusalem coach Reuven Atar was delighted with the result of the first game, although less than happy with the way his team had played. "The finish was very dramatic and I'm happy to be on the winning side this season," said Atar, who lost in the semifinals last year as Maccabi Netanya coach. "It was a typical cup match and Hakoach could have won it at the end. I didn't expect an easy game, it doesn't work that way in this competition." "The main thing is that we won, even tough we didn't play well," said Betar forward Barak Itzhaki who returned to Jerusalem in the summer after spending half a season on loan at Belgian side Genk. "Last season I attended the final as a fan so I'm really hoping to lift the cup myself this time." Betar Jerusalem 2, Hakoach Amidar Ramat Gan 1 Betar dominated the proceedings from the start of the first semifinal of the night, and it was only a matter of time until it scored the opener. Barak Itzhaki should have given Jerusalem the lead in the 23rd minute, but despite being given plenty of space and time in the Ramat Gan box, released a weak shot which was cleared by the defense. Betar kept pushing forward and its efforts finally bore fruit three minutes later. Idan Vered sent the ball into the box and Bruchian beat the 'keeper with a delightful back heel. The cup holder took a deserved lead into the break and seemed to be in complete control at the start of the second half as well. However, seven minutes after the interval, Omer Rapps made the most of a lapse in the Betar defense, slotting the ball beyond Tvrtko Kale to stun Jerusalem. Betar struggled to recover from conceding the surprise equalizer and it was Hakoach which created the better chances in the remainder of the second half. One minute into stoppage time, Hakoach's Barak Badash dropped to his knees in anguish after Jerusalem scored the winner. After an excellent move down the left flank Eliran Danin attempted to pass to Itzhaki, but Hakoach defender Rosh intercepted the ball, only to turn it into his own net and ensure Betar closed to within one win of a second straight cup triumph. Maccabi Haifa 1, Maccabi Netanya 1 Gustavo Bocolli squandered a golden opportunity to put his team in the driving seat in the 13th minute when Lior Rafaelov broke on the left side and only had a single Netanya defender to beat, but the Brazilian made a mess of it and shot well wide. It was becoming increasingly obvious that it would need a moment of brilliance to break the deadlock, and Itai Shechter nearly provided it for Netanya just before the half hour mark. The striker turned stopped the ball suddenly in the area and released a super effort which flew just above the crossbar. The opener finally came thanks to an excellent strike by Meshumar in the 66th minute. Haifa midfielder John Culma ran straight at the middle of the Netanya defense before laying the ball off to right back Meshumar on the right of the area who unleashed a screamer which gave goalkeeper Liran Strauber little chance. From then on Matthaus's side had few opportunities to level the score, but somehow managed to equalize just when the game seemed to have slipped away. Siobonga headed in from an Almog Cohen corner kick in the 90th minute, as the game was going into injury time, and the teams had to play an extra 30 minutes. Both teams tired as the extra time drew on and penalties appeared to be an inevitable conclusion to what had been a tight game. Haifa scored its first two spot kicks through Yaniv Katan and Biram Kayal and Bevan Fransman and Luis Marni missed the opening penalties for Netanya. But the tables were turned when Lior Rafaelov hit his penalty over the bar and Alon Harazi's was saved while Dedi Ben-Dayan and Dele Yampolsky scored for Netanya. The shootout went into sudden death and it wasn't until Krupnik scored and Maabi missed that the Haifa fans could celebrate.