(photo credit: UDI ZITIAT)
The remarkable rise of Hapoel Beersheba continued on Thursday night with a stunning 2-0 win over Inter Milan in San Siro in their Europa League group stage opener.
Beersheba was playing its first-ever group stage match in European competition in one of the continent's biggest and most famous stadiums. However, it fully deserved its victory against the three-time European champion, which won its last title just six years ago.
After a goalless first half, Miguel Vitor scored the opener for Beersheba following a well-worked free-kick move in the 54th minute.
Maor Buzaglo doubled the advantage with a sensational set-piece from 20 meters out 15 minutes later and Beersheba, which claimed its first local championship in 40 years last season, comfortably held on for the win.
Beersheba, which climbed to first place in the Premier League standings with Saturday's 3-0 win over Bnei Sakhnin, hadn't won a European tie in 19 years until this summer.
Coach Barak Bachar's team also faces Sparta Prague of the Czech Republic and Southampton of the English Premier League in Group K, with the top two to advance to the next round.
Meanwhile, what would have been a win for the ages turned into a meltdown of historic proportions in Netanya on Thursday night, with Maccabi Tel Aviv squandering a 3-0 lead to lose 4-3 to Zenit Saint Petersburg in their Europa League group stage opener.
JPOST VIDEOS THAT MIGHT INTEREST YOU:
Haris Medunjanin's second goal of the match with a spectacular free-kick in the 70th minute opened a 3-0 advantage and looked to have wrapped up a memorable win for the yellow-and-blue.
A mere 15 minutes later, Maccabi players, coaches and fans were shaking their heads in disbelief after the yellow-and-blue's calamitous play allowed Zenit's Luka Djordjevic to complete a dramatic comeback in the first minute of stoppage time.
"As a coach I have never experienced anything like this and I hope I never do again," said Maccabi coach Shota Arveladze. "I'm not going to say nothing happened but we have to pass this. We have no time to think and we have a league match in a few days, it's the past and it's over. We can analyze this and get stronger see where we made the mistake and not do this again." In Netanya, Zenit looked to dominate from the start. But for all its possession, Maccabi goalkeeper Predrag Rajkovic didn't have much work to do in the first half other than saving Axel Witsel dangerous header in the ninth minute.
Maccabi was intent on soaking up the pressure and striking on the break and it almost did so successfully in the 16th minute, with winger Tal Ben-Haim's effort beating 'keeper Yuri Lodygin but being denied by the post.
The yellow-and-blue would, however, catch Zenit off guard once more 10 minutes later. Medunjanin's cross flew into the back of the net after St. Petersburg's defense and goalkeeper stood by idly.
Maccabi doubled its lead less than five minutes into the second half.
Ben-Haim crossed the ball from the right and record signing Kjartansson sent an unstoppable header into the right corner for his first goal at the club.
Maccabi broke its previous record for the most expensive transfer in Israeli soccer history last month when it agreed to pay Swedish side Malmo FF around 3.5 million euro for the services of the Icelandic striker. He hasn't taken long to settle, earning a penalty on his debut in Sunday's 2-2 draw against Beitar Jerusalem before scoring his first goal on Thursday.
Maccabi's second goal jolted Zenit into action and the visitors should have really cut the deficit in the 57th minute. Aleksandr Kokorin found himself with only Rajkovic to beat, but he took so long on the ball that Maccabi defender Tal Ben-Haim had enough time to slide in and clear the danger.
Medunjanin's second goal with a stunning free-kick from 25 meters out in the 70th minute seemed to have sealed a significant win for Maccabi. The hosts remained in the driving seat even after Kokorin got a goal back for Zenit in the 77th minute and Eli Dasa was sent off three minutes later with a second yellow card. However, Mauricio's goal in the 84th minute from the ensuing indirect free-kick from five meters out sent Maccabi into full panic mode and Giuliano's equalizer two minutes later completely silenced the crowd. It would get worse for the home fans when Djordjevic netted the winner with a diving header in the 91st minute, not only sending Maccabi to a defeat in its group opener but also crushing its confidence in a manner which could have long-term repercussions.
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>