Ironi Kiryat Shmona’s Champions League dream is alive and kicking after it
advanced to the third qualifying round on Tuesday with a 2-0 win over MSK Zilina
at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium in Haifa, overturning a 1-0 first-leg defeat from last
Kiryat Shmona dominated the proceedings once more, but it had to
wait until late in the match to secure its progress.
A mix of fortune and
fortitude saw Zilina hold on to its 1-0 lead from Slovakia last week until the
70th minute, when an own-goal by Vladimir Leitner gave the hosts the elusive
breakthrough before Shimon Abu Hazeira clinched the tie with a powerful effort
eight minutes later.
“We deserved this victory,” said Kiryat Shmona coach
Gili Landau, who will not have long to prepare for the third qualifying round
first leg next week.
“The name of the game was patience. We tried to
decide the match in the first 10 minutes, but we squandered our chances and we
had to be patient after that. We continued to move the ball against a very
compact defense and ultimately it paid off.”
Kiryat Shmona will host
Azerbaijan’s Neftci PFK in the first leg of the third qualifying round next
week, with Neftci drawing 2-2 at Georgia’s FC Zestafoni on Tuesday to complete a
5-2 aggregate win.
By qualifying for the next round, the surprise Israeli
champion has guaranteed itself a place in the Europa League playoffs even if it
loses in the Champions League third round of qualifying.
Progress to the
Champions League playoffs with a triumph over Neftci will book the northerners –
at the very least – a place in the Europa League group stage.
the most important match in our club’s history,” said club owner Izzy Sheratzky.
“We played well and deserved to win and now we face a new battle. The next round
is especially important as we can secure ourselves an extended continental
Abu Hazeira failed to hit the target with either of his two
chances in the first five minutes and Adrian Rochet was the next Kiryat Shmona
player to fire wayward from close range in the 14th minute.
lapse by Lietner in the 27th minute almost cost the visitors dearly, but David
Solari left the Slovaks unpunished, sending his shot centimeters wide of the
Kiryat Shmona continued to pile the pressure at the start of the
second half, but was slowly beginning to get frustrated, as demonstrated by
Solari’s over-hit shot from long range in the 58th minute.
It seemed like
it might not be Kiryat Shmona’s day when Salah Hasarma, who only drank and ate
midway through the match as he was fasting due to the Ramadan, blasted a
close-range effort against the crossbar in the 64th minute.
deadlock was broken six minutes later when man-of-the-match Elad Gabai tortured
his defender once more on the right flank before sending in a cross Lietner
could not handle, bumbling the ball into his own net.
The opener was all
the impetus Kiryat Shmona needed to go on and win the tie, with Abu Hazeira
smashing the ball beyond goalkeeper Martin Dubravka after Lietner turned it over
in his own half.
“This was a once in a lifetime match and we gave our
all,” Gabai said. “We took a significant step forward with this win. I didn’t
even want to consider the option that we might not progress.”
conquered, Landau will happily turn his attention to Neftci, a club with a
budget around four times that of Kiryat Shmona’s.
“I’m very pleased as
this gives us confidence and momentum for the rest of the competition,” Landau
“We looked okay, but we still have plenty of room for improvement.
There are no easy matches in this competition and we have no reason to be in a
euphoric mood ahead of next week.”