Hapoel Beersheba captain Elyaniv Barda (left) may not have scored last night, but was still delighted with his team’s 0-0 first-leg draw on the road against Luka Milivojevic (5) and Greek champion Olympiacos in Champions League qualifying action..
(photo credit: UDI ZITIAT)
Hapoel Beersheba’s Champions League dream is alive and kicking after registering a 0-0 draw against Olympiacos in Athens on Wednesday in the first leg of the third qualifying round.
Beersheba entered the tie as a firm underdog, with the six-time reigning Greek champion aiming to reach the group stage for a sixth straight year.
However, Beersheba proved it has what it takes to overcome the Greek powerhouse and perhaps even reach the group stage in its first season in the competition with a disciplined display.
Beersheba registered just one attempt on target on Wednesday, but it was first and foremost focused on containing Olympiacos in the first leg and it did that almost to perfection. Goalkeeper Dudu Goresh was barely troubled, and did well when he was, and Beersheba will enter the return leg at Turner Stadium next Wednesday knowing a win will send it through to the final playoff round.
Beersheba had to dig deep to reach the third qualifying round, eking out a 0-0 draw at FC Sheriff Tiraspol in Moldova last week after registering a 3-2 win in the first leg of the second qualifying round at Turner.
Prior to last week, the last time Beersheba progressed in continental play was in the 1997/98 season when it overcame Zalgiris Vilnius of Lithuania in the qualifying round of the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup.
After winning its first European tie in nearly two decades, and with a berth in the Europa League playoffs to fall back on, Beersheba entered Wednesday’s match pressure free and it showed.
The Israeli champion enjoyed plenty of the possession in the first 20 minutes, and while it struggled to create scoring opportunities, it was frustrating the hosts.
It took Olympiacos 20 minutes to register its first chance, with Greek international Kostas Fortounis having his powerful effort denied by an alert Goresh.
Olympiacos began to dictate the play, but Beersheba did well to limit the host’s chances and was delighted to enter the break in a goalless deadlock, with some of the local fans booing their team off the pitch.
The second half began in a similar fashion to the way the first ended, with Olympiacos controlling the possession, but only rarely troubling Goresh.
A Fortounis free kick three minutes after the restart was calmly collected by Goresh and Beersheba and its goalkeeper breathed a sigh of relief in the 57th minute when Swedish international Jimmy Durmaz squandered a good opportunity when he ballooned his set piece from the edge of the box in what was his final contribution before being substituted.
Olympiacos increased the pressure as the match progressed, but couldn’t find a precious winner, with Goresh coming up with a superb save to deny Luka Milivojevic in the 89th minute.
Anthony Nwakaeme then recorded Beersheba’s only shot on target, and even though it was saved Beersheba will be delighted ahead of the next week’s second leg.
Wednesday’s match was the start of 15 hectic days for Beersheba. The team plays Hapoel Ashkelon in its Toto Cup opener on Saturday before welcoming Olympiacos at Turner on Wednesday.
It will then play three matches in five days, facing Beitar Jerusalem and Ashdod SC in the Toto Cup on Sunday and Tuesday, respectively, before coming up against State Cup holder Maccabi Haifa in the Super Cup on Thursday.
Beersheba is looking to become the sixth Israeli team to play in the Champions League group stage. Maccabi Tel Aviv qualified last season for the second time in club history (2004/05, 2015/16), with Hapoel Tel Aviv reaching the prestigious stage in 2010/11 and Maccabi Haifa doing so twice (2002/03, 2009/10) in the past.