Tamuz approaching the goal.
Tamuz approaching the goal. Photo by Sharon Bukov
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Hapoel Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa are in the State Cup finals after pulling out a pair of close matches last night.

Hapoel beat Ramat Hasharon 3-0 in extra time after a lackluster 90 minutes in the opening semifinal. Maccabi Haifa took a narrow lead early in the second half and held on for the rest of the match to eliminate F.C. Ashdod 2-1.

In the early match, Omer Damari opened the scoring in the 95th minute, releasing a lot of the pressure on favored Hapoel Tel Aviv. Ten minutes later, just before the extra time break, Toto Tamuz put Tel Aviv up 2-0. The goal was particularly sweet for Tamuz, who came in as a substitute after missing several games with an injury. Two minutes before the final whistle, Salim Toama sealed the victory with a powerful shot past the goalkeeper.

"The moment we scored the first one, Ramat Hasharon opened its game," said Hapoel coach Nitzan Shirazi. "We are thrilled with advancing to the final." Omer Damari said he was glad to see his partner on the front line, Tamuz, return. "It really helps on the pitch," the striker said. "It wasn't our best game, but the most important thing is that we met our goal and reached the final."

Shaya Feigenbaum, the coach of Ramat Hasharon, was dreaming of an upset at the Ramat Gan stadium, but his team's chances effectively fizzled when it lost its biggest star, Tomer Suissa, when he had to leave the game with an injury in the 29th minute.

"Every whistle favored Hapoel Tel Aviv," said Feigenbaum after the game. "They made us play Sunday night and that hurt us, but I don't want to make excuses. The first goal really devastated us. I salute the players. I am proud of them. The fans enjoyed watching a good team."

In the late game, Maccabi Haifa scored first in the 30th minute when Dela Yampolsky arced a shot over Ashdod goalkeeper Ofir Martziano. However, Nir Biton equalized five minutes later. Five minutes into the second half, Yaniv Katan scored the winner as Haifa shut down Ashdod on defense to book its spot in the final.