Maccabi Tel Aviv have won this season's first trophy after a 2-1 win over Maccabi Haifa in the Toto Cup final
A second-half penalty by Nikola Mitrovic proved decisive as Maccabi Tel Aviv brought the "Toto" (League) Cup trophy back to Tel Aviv for the fourth time in their history and the first time since 2009 after beating Maccabi Haifa 2-1 in the final at a sold-out Netanya Municipal Stadium. Two own goals in each half, the first to Maccabi Tel Aviv and the second to Maccabi Haifa, held the two sides level at 1-1 until late in the match, but ten minutes from time striker Barak Badash was fouled inside the penalty area by Maccabi Haifa defender Dekel Kenan and midfielder Nikola Mitrovic stepped up to score from the penalty spot to put Maccabi Tel Aviv in front 2-1. After six minutes of extra time Maccabi Haifa were unable to reply and Maccabi Tel Aviv celebrated at the podium with the first trophy of the 2014/15 season, the "Toto" Cup.
The contest between these two traditional rivals began at a stroll, with the first scoring opportunity of the match falling to Maccabi Haifa, a free kick that was parried by Maccabi Tel Aviv goalkeeper Barak Levy and cleared to safety before being ruled offside. On ten minutes Maccabi Tel Aviv returned the favour when young midfielder Ben Reichert found Barak Badash in space in the area, but the striker fired over. Two minutes later Maccabi Haifa were once again on the attack and midfielder Chen Ezra curled a shot towards the far post that careened off the upright. But it wasn't until five minutes before half time that the scoreboard was activated, and then by a defensive error. In an attempt to clear to safety a Nikola Mitrovic cross into Barak Badash in the area, Maccabi defender Matan Ohayon headed the ball over his own goalkeeper and into the net to give Maccabi Tel Aviv a 1-0 lead going into the break, a last-minute effort by Maccabi Haifa striker Shimon Abuhatzira notwithstanding.
Seven minutes after the restart it was Maccabi Tel Aviv's turn to act as provider for Maccabi Haifa's equaliser, when a counter attack ended in a cross into the area by Maccabi Haifa's Spanish midfielder Ruben Rayos. Unfortunately it was a Maccabi Tel Aviv boot, that of defender Eytan Tibi, that prodded it into the net to draw the two sides level at 1-1. In the minutes that followed Maccabi Haifa saw two promising advances on goal end in failure. On the hour mark Maccabi Tel Aviv created their first promising chance of the half when substitute midfielder Dor Micha passed back into the area for Barak Badash who volleyed over the net. The striker made amends though ten minutes from time when his race for a high ball in the area was brought to an abrupt end by a foul by Maccabi Haifa defender Dekel Kenan. Nikola Mitrovic was deputised to take the resultant penalty and after one successful kick was brought back for an overzealous rush by players from both sides towards the goal, the Serbian midfielder coolly placed the ball in the net for the second time to hand the lead back to Maccabi Tel Aviv. Mitrovic's first goal of the season put Maccabi ahead 2-1 for what would prove to be the final score of the match, even after a generous six minutes of extra time.
For the fourth time in their illustrious history, Maccabi Tel Aviv have won the "Toto" Cup, a record that brings them level with Hapoel Petach Tikva and tonight's rival Maccabi Haifa as all-time "Toto" Cup winners.
photograph: Gilad Kavlerchik