The Last Word: The magic of the Cup is here to stay

As a former AFC Bournemouth manager, Harry Redknapp knows his stuff. The quintessential Londoner, currently running affairs at Premier League side Portsmouth, was delighted to see his team reach the FA Cup semifinals last weekend, after a superb victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford. But this time Harry got it wrong when in an interview on English TV on Sunday Redknapp claimed that the FA Cup final is still the biggest day of the English soccer calendar. There's no doubt that English clubs place great emphasis on the cup competitions, especially the FA Cup. But at the end of the day it is simply a nice aside to the league campaign. The FA Cup only guarantees a place in the UEFA Cup, something that any team worth its salt would have already secured by finishing high enough in the league, assuming it ends up outside the top four. While it is a fun day out for the supporters and an exciting way to finish the season, there is no comparison to the importance supporters, managers and players place on the league campaign. The backlash Avraham Grant received over the past few weeks after Chelsea lost in the League Cup final and then was beaten by Barnsley in the FA Cup was totally out of proportion. If it was anyone else, such as Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger or United's Alex Ferguson, little would have been said. It has been obvious from the start that the English media has had it in for Grant, but even so, if Chelsea's players continue to perform in the league as they have done for the past few weeks, then all will probably be forgotten. The 6-1 whalloping of Derby on Wednesday, which followed last week's 4-0 drubbing of West Ham were a good start and proved that the cup losses were more of a blip than proof Grant doesn't have what it takes to take control of Roman Abramovich's team, especially with the Blues still in the Champions League. In Israel, however, the situatiuon is very different. This week saw some thrilling cup ties and proved just how important the State Cup still is for teams and supporters alike in this country. Hapoel Kfar Saba's 5-4 win over Ironi Rishon Lezion and the continuing giant killing run of Betar/Shimshon Tel Aviv were all interesting enough. But the way the competition has been treated by Betar Jerusalem and Maccabi Netanya showed just how significant it is and the esteem it is held in. Betar appears to be a shoe in for the league title for a second successive year and all focus has been directed towards the State Cup - the competition it hasn't won for 19 long years. Wins over Bnei Sakhnin and Ahi Nazareth have created the feeling that maybe this is Jerusalem's year, but Netanya has other plans. Wednesday's victory over Maccabi Haifa was a massive step towards the club's first State Cup final for 30 years. Haifa coach Roni Levy's reaction on Wednesday also told the story. Levy so much wanted to take the cup as his final trophy but it was not to be. The State Cup will continue to be a magical competition as long as the fans treat it in that manner. Long may it continue.