(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Hapoel Tel Aviv has got the Champions League group stage in its sights after
defeating FK Aktobe 3-1 at Bloomfield Stadium on Tuesday night to complete a 3-2
aggregate victory over the Kazakhstan champion.
After losing 1-0 in the
first leg, Tel Aviv knew it would have its work cut out for it at Bloomfield and
there were some worried fans after a nervy start.
However, there was only
going to be one winner once the hosts made the breakthrough via Eran Zehavi in
the 16th minute, with two goals in four minutes courtesy of Ben Sahar (31) and
an Aktobe own-goal (35) effectively clinching the tie by halftime.
are delighted,” said Hapoel coach Eli Gutman, whose team has already guaranteed
itself a long European season, as even a defeat in the playoffs will result in a
place in the Europa League group stage.
“This victory shows the strength
of the club, its management, its fans and its players. I asked the players why
they sat back in the second half and they said they were completely
Hapoel will now turn its attention to Friday’s playoff round
draw in Nyon, Switzerland, where despite being seeded favorably it is set to
receive a far tougher obstacle on its way to realizing its dream of reaching the
group stage of European soccer’s most prestigious competition for the first time
in club history.
The first leg of the playoffs will be played in two
weeks, with the return leg to take place a week later.
struggled at the start, failing to string together their characteristic passing
moves and turning over the ball far more than usual.
The pressure from
last week’s 1-0 loss in Kazakhstan was clearly taking its toll, but a moment of
brilliance in the 16th minute broke the deadlock.
Itai Shechter battled
past two players before squaring the ball perfectly from the right flank,
leaving Zehavi with the simple task of slotting in the ball.
gave Tel Aviv some much needed confidence, but it wasn’t until Aktobe made a
defensive mistake 15 minutes later that the hosts doubled their
Shechter picked out a poor Kazakh pass in the center of the field
and sent through Sahar, who rounded the ’keeper before scoring his first goal as
a Hapoel player.
Despite the two-goal margin, the Reds were desperate to
score a third and open a comfortable cushion. Four minutes later they were
gifted what will surely be one of the most horrendous own-goals scored in
continental competition throughout the coming season.
Khalifa Elhadj Ba
took a needless swipe at a harmless Hapoel long-ball and Sidelnikov could do no
more than chase the ball into the back of the net.
Tel Aviv’s third goal
meant Aktobe needed to score twice to advance and the Kazakhs didn’t recover
from the heartbreaking circumstances of the owngoal until the start of the
Aktobe had no choice but to commit more players forward, and
seven minutes after the break the visitors came centimeters from getting back
into the match.
Marat Khayrullin had time and space on the edge of the
box, but his crackling shot went just wide of Vincent Enyeama’s post.
visitors created little else in the remainder of the match, but there were some
tense moments in the closing stages after Aktobe’s Murat Tleshev grabbed a goal
in the 89th minute following a scramble on the goal-line.
would prove to be no more than a consolation-goal for the Kazakhs as Tel Aviv
held on for a priceless victory.