| PETAH TIKVA, Israel
PETAH TIKVA, Israel Jan 24 Runaway
Israeli league leaders Hapoel Kiryat Shmona retained the Toto
Cup on Tuesday by beating Hapoel Tel Aviv 4-3 in a penalty
shootout after the sides ended 120 minutes of a dull final level
Each side missed once in the shootout before Hapoel striker
Toto Tamuz blasted his spot kick wide to allow Kiryat Shmona to
retain the trophy they first won last year.
The first 90 minutes ended goalless as neither team was able
to create many openings in a slow-paced tactical match. Wael
Marisat scored for Kiryat Shmona in the third minute of extra
time and Mahmoud Abbas equalised for Hapoel five minutes later.
With the league almost two-thirds completed, Kiryat Shmona
have an 11-point lead over nearest rivals Ashdod SC and are 13
ahead of Tel Aviv in third place.
They have been the most consistent side in the league losing
once in 22 outings, while none of their rivals have been able to
mount a sustained challenge with the league's traditional
powers, Hapoel and Maccabi Haifa displaying lacklustre form.
Kiryat Shmona, Israel's northern-most urban centre with a
population of 23,000 and is the smallest town with a team in the
Premier League. It was founded in 2000 following the merger of
two smaller clubs and was promoted to the top flight in 2007.
The town is situated close to Israel's border with Lebanon
and for decades was the target of Katyusha rockets and
cross-border raids mainly by Palestinian militants based in
Many of the town's residents briefly fled during Israel's
2006 offensive in Lebanon against Iranian-backed Hezbollah
guerrillas who launched thousands of rockets on northern Israel,
but the area has largely remained calm since the war.
(Writing by Ori Lewis; editing by John Mehaffey)