Hapoel Tel Aviv’s European campaign has all but ended after a single match following a 3-0 defeat to Astana in Kazakhstan in the first leg of the Europa League second qualifying round on Thursday afternoon.
Hapoel got the 2014/15 season off to a disastrous start, an especially ominous sign considering the team has been rocked in recent weeks by a power struggle in its dysfunctional ownership.
With a squad which has significantly weakened from last season and the inexperienced coach Asi Domb guiding the team for the first time, the last thing Hapoel needed on Thursday was a bad start.
However, it got just that, with Astana taking a 1-0 lead in the 16th minute through a Roger Canas penalty after Hapoel defender Orel Dgani was sent off for toppling Tanat Nusserbayev in the box.
Tel Aviv was always going to struggle with 10 men and Astana seized complete control of the proceedings.
Nusserbayev doubled the advantage with a fantastic shot from the edge of the box in the 58th minute and Abzal Beisebekov scored Astana’s third goal 11 minutes later, with Hapoel ‘keeper Danny Amos parrying the ball into his own net.
Despite playing with 10 men, Hapoel had its chances to score what would have been a precious away goal, but Avraham Chekoll and Omer Fadida couldn’t find the back of the net with only the Astana goalkeeper to beat.
Hapoel desperately lacked its clinical striker Omer Damari, who remained in Israel after falling ill. Damari has been at the center of the rift between the head of the ownership group Haim Ramon and new manager Eyal Berkovic, with the former wanting to sell the striker for financial reasons and the latter hoping to keep him at the club. Berkovic didn’t fly with the team to Kazakhstan.
Complicating matters for Hapoel in the second leg next week is the fact that the team will have to host its home leg in Cyprus due to the ongoing rocket fire from Gaza.
Late Thursday, Hapoel Beersheba faced RNK Split in Croatia, also in the first leg of the Europa League second qualifying round.
Beersheba was making its first appearances in continental competition since 1997.
The draw for the Europa League and Champions League third qualifying rounds will take place on Friday.
In other local soccer news, the fixture list for the upcoming Premier League season was revealed on Thursday.
Two-time defending champion Maccabi Tel Aviv will visit Maccabi Petah Tikva in its season-opener, with last season’s runner-up, Hapoel Beersheba, to host Beitar Jerusalem in their first match over the weekend of August 23. Maccabi Haifa’s first league match at the new Sammy Ofer Stadium will be against Bnei Sakhnin, also in the first weekend of the season.
Maccabi Tel Aviv will already face Beersheba in their third match of the campaign, while the first Tel Aviv derby of the season will take place on Week 7.