It was a dramatic night of mixed fortunes for Israel’s representatives in the Europa League on Thursday.
A 92nd-minute equalizer by Omer Damari gave Hapoel Tel Aviv a precious point on the road against Academica de Coimbra of Portugal, salvaging a 1-1 draw after a mediocre performance.
However, Ironi Kiryat Shmona suffered heartbreak two minutes into stoppage time of its match against Olympique Lyon at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium in Haifa, with Gueida Fofana scoring the French powerhouse’s winner for a 4-3 victory after the Israeli champion came back from a 3-1 halftime deficit.
“We were close to recording an amazing result,” said Kiryat Shmona coach Barak Bachar, who only replaced Gili Landau on Wednesday.
“I’m very proud of the players.”
Tel Aviv struggled to make any sort of impression for much of the match in Portugal and Salim Cisse gave the hosts a deserved lead with an acrobatic bicycle kick two minutes into the second half.
Hapoel only finally stamped its authority on the encounter in the final 10 minutes, and after a couple of close calls, Damari snatched a draw for the Reds with a close-range header from a Gili Vermut cross.
In Haifa, Kiryat Shmona got off to a perfect start, with Shimon Abu Hazeira
giving the hosts a seventh minute lead with a clinical finish from the edge of the area.
Kiryat Shmona caught Lyon’s defense off guard once more in the 14th minute, with Laszlo Lencse firing above Remy Vercoutre’s goal with only the ‘keeper to beat.
The Israeli champion exuded confidence, but inexplicable defensive mistakes gifted Lyon three goals in 15 minutes and left the hosts with a mountain to climb.
A wayward pass by Elad Gabai followed by a fluffed clearance from Shir Tzedek resulted in the ball falling to Fofana’s feet and he smashed in the equalizer from 20 meters out in the 16th minute.
A Bryan Gerzicich foul on the edge of the area six minutes later gave Lyon a golden opportunity and Fabian Monzon stepped up to slot the ball into the back of the net.
The encounter looked to be as good as over in the 31st minute when Anthony Reveillere sliced through Kiryat Shmona’s reckless defense to open a two-goal cushion.
However, Lior Levi gave Kiryat Shmona a lifeline in the 51st minute when he advanced down the field unchallenged before releasing a superb strike from 20 meters out.
Kiryat Shmona completed the unlikely comeback in the 66th minute, with Abu Hazeria scoring from the penalty spot after being brought down in the box by Bakary Kone.
The hosts looked to be heading towards an unlikely point after Adi Elisha and Adrian Rochet kept the match tied with two goal-line clearances in the 81st minute.
But the night would end in pain for the Israelis, with Fofana heading in the winner in the 92nd minute to give Lyon all three points.