Tel Aviv derby final still in the cards

Hapoel drawn to play Netanya in State Cup semis as Maccabi matched against Ashdod.

State Cup 311 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
State Cup 311
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Tel Aviv remain on course to meet in the State Cup final after being kept apart in the semifinal draw at Israel Basketball Association headquarters in Tel Aviv on Wednesday.
Reigning cup-holder Maccabi Tel Aviv will face in-form Maccabi Ashdod, while National League leader Hapoel Tel Aviv will come up against Barak Netanya when the semis are played at Nokia Arena on February 7, with the final to take place three days later.
Hapoel Tel Aviv got the better of BSL opponents Hapoel Holon and Maccabi Haifa in the last 16 and quarterfinals, respectively, and coach Sharon Avrahami, who has yet to see his team lose a game in league or cup play this season, admitted he was relieved to avoid a derby showdown in the last four.
“We are happy not to have drawn Maccabi Tel Aviv,” Avrahami said.
“Netanya is a very good team, but facing them gives us a better chance of reaching the final. We will still enter the game as the underdog and it will not be easy. We didn’t believe we would reach this stage this season and it is a great honor. The sky is the limit for us and I believe we can make the final.”
Netanya beat Hapoel Jerusalem at Malha Arena to advance to the cup semis for a second straight season and coach Eric Alfasi is hoping to go one better this time around after falling in the last four in 2010.
“It is an excellent achievement for us to reach the semifinals for a second straight year,” Alfasi said. “I saw the Hapoel representatives were happy to draw us, but I hope we can stop their momentum.
“Any team that beats BSL sides is an excellent team and it won’t be easy to defeat them.”
Ashdod has been the surprise team in the BSL this season, amassing an 8-5 record so far to move into second place in the standings in its first-ever campaign in the top-flight.
Ofer Berkowitz’s team has done equally well in the cup, knocking out Bnei Hasharon and Hapoel Gilboa/Galil on its way to the semis.
“We are happy to be in the semis and believe we will represent the city with honor,” Ashdod captain Meir Tapiro said. “I hope we continue to put on a show the way we have done so far.
Maybe it is better to get Maccabi in the semis because there won’t be as many of their fans. It is time we knock out Tel Aviv in the semis.”
Yellow-and-blue captain Derrick Sharp is confident Tel Aviv will go on to win a second straight cup and is actually looking forward to seeing the Reds’ fans in the stands.
“We didn’t really care who we got in the draw because either way our goal remains the same – to win the semis and the final,” Sharp said. “Ashdod is a very good team which is in second position in the league so we will have to be ready.
“I’m not surprised by Hapoel Tel Aviv’s progress. They built a good team and have been doing well in the National League. I don’t think this is luck or a Cinderella story. They work hard and deserve to be in the semifinals.
“The fact there will be red fans in the stands is excellent for us because it will give us even more motivation to win.”