Hapoel Tel Aviv midfielder Elroei Cohen celebrates.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Hapoel Tel Aviv joined Maccabi Haifa in the group stage of the Europa League on
Thursday night, defeating FK Ekranas of Lithuania 4-0 at Bloomfield Stadium to
complete a 4-1 aggregate victory.
Hapoel was bitterly disappointing in
last week’s 1-0 first-leg loss in Lithuania, but it dominated the return leg in
Bloomfield and fully deserved to advance to the group stage of a European
competition for the fifth time in the last six years.
“I think this match
was a direct continuation to the improvement we showed against Maccabi Petah
Tikva in the league on Monday,” Hapoel coach Dror Kashtan said. “We achieved our
goal, but I’m still hungry for more success.”
Haifa will be in Friday’s
Europa League groups draw following its Champions League exit at the hands of
KRC Genk on Tuesday, with Maccabi Tel Aviv taking a 3-0 lead into the second leg
of its playoff tie against Greece’s Panathinaikos, which ended after press time
on Thursday night.
Maccabi’s match in Athens was delayed for almost 30
minutes after police fired tear gas into the stands with the encounter less than
five minutes old when Panathinaikos fans tried to enter the section in which the
yellow-andblue supporters were seated.
At Bloomfield, Hapoel looked to
pressure the Lithuanians from the start, but the hosts struggled to break down
Ekranas’s defensive formation.
In the 31st minute, Omer Damari very
nearly scored with a cheeky back-heal, but ’keeper Emilijus Zubas was well
placed to collect the ball on the goal line.
Six minutes later, however,
Hapoel finally managed to break through the Lithuanian bunker.
Khutaba found Elroei Cohen with a clever cross and the midfielder headed in the
Cohen’s goal tied the encounter on aggregate, but Hapoel
immediately pushed forward in search of a crucial second and it would score it
eight minutes after the break.
Once more Khutaba provided the assist, but
this time it was Damari who slid in to give the Reds a 2-0 lead.
hosts knew a third goal would kill off the tie and they finally got it nine
minutes from time after missing numerous chances.
Damari slid the ball
through to Toto Tamuz, who easily found the back of the net before Maharan Lala
completed the scoring in stoppage time to ensure Hapoel scored four goals for a
third straight home match.