Cyril Anekstein Cup final too close to call
Holders Hendon will need to pull out all the stops to cage the Lions. We preview Sunday’s final
Hotshot: Lions' Mike Pearson
It is almost impossible to call Sunday's JC Cyril Anekstein Cup final between London Maccabi Lions A and Hendon United A.
Both teams came through tough semi-finals against Premier Division opposition with the Lions edging out North West Neasden A, while Hendon overcame a resilient Faithfold A.
The clash at the Harry Abrahams Stadium, home of Wingate & Finchley, plays host to two of the most successful teams in recent MSFL history, both of whom can still win the treble.
Pace, power, passion and movement will be the key ingredients in a contest featuring two well-matched teams.
Possible line-ups for the final
Having experienced a season of transition in 2008-09, the Lions are back on track with manager Eilon Kennet, who made a welcome return in September, showing his midas touch.
His son, Ricky, matchwinner against Neasden, will miss the final through injury. The midfielder has endured a frustrating year after withdrawing from the Team GB squad prior to the 18th Maccabiah Games.
The mind games are well under way with both camps keen to talk their chances down. Hendon manager David Garbacz said: "Lions would go into the game as favourites because they have been the most consistent team overall this season. But we are also in the midst of a great unbeaten run which includes games against all the top teams. Purely in terms of expectations we prefer to go into the game as underdogs."
Eilon Kennet says Lions are just happy to be in the final. "Anyone who saw our celebrations at the end of the Neasden semi-final will understand just how delighted we all are to be here. We've won this cup three times in four seasons, so getting to the final again is a good barometer of our progress this season."
He has been delighted to see that the Rowley Lane youth system has given him some new blood to go with his already multi-talented squad. "The team is a fusion of experience and youth this season, with the youngsters featuring much more, as they've established themselves as team members rather than just squad players. This is an important shift in the team's culture. There's a level of trust and confidence in team members which can only be created by playing together. "That's why the game against NWN was such an important bench-mark, where this was very evident in the team's performance. Old heads and young legs are not just a good combination for this season, but it bodes well for the future progress of the team too.
"Playing against Hendon will not be easy. We've played each other twice in the league and both games have been keenly contested. This will be no different. They are a strong competitive side who never give up. Everyone wants to win the Cup and we are no different. "
The Lions defy the theory that football is a young man's game. Although the majority of their squad are in their 20s, two players that have stood out this season are more than twice that age. Veterans Aviel Schwarz 44, and Pete Lazard, 47, have had more visits to Wingate than they would care to remember. Six-time cup winner Schwarz will line up for his 12th League Cup final appearance.
Last year Lazard helped Team GB Masters win gold at the Maccabiah. He has formed a rock solid partnership in central defence alongside Louis Basger, although they will be put to the test by Hendon's Avidan Last, who has scored in every round.
Sunday will be something of a family affair for Hendon. They have three sets of brothers with three Lasts in the shape of Avidan, Ari and Avishai, two Kormans – Dovid and Motti - and two Bentleys – Paul and the injured Josh in the squad, with their uncle Garbacz giving them direction.
Caro's prediction: Hendon on penalties