PETAH TIKVA, Israel, Jan 24 (Reuters) - 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 at 1-1.
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 Lebanon.
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)