Beitar, Mac TA both triumphant to start

Pair of stoppage-time tallies lifts Jerusalem over Vasas • Yellow-and-blue blanks Tirana.

June 30, 2017 00:29
2 minute read.
Beitar Jerusalem midfielder Yossi Benayoun celebrates after scoring on his debut last night, sparkin

Beitar Jerusalem midfielder Yossi Benayoun celebrates after scoring on his debut last night, sparking the side to a 4-3 comeback win over Vasas of Hungary in Europa League qualifying in Petah Tikva. (photo credit: UDI ZITIAT)

Three goals in five minutes, including two in stoppage time, gave Beitar Jerusalem a dramatic 4-3 win over Vasas of Hungary in the first leg of the Europa League first round on Thursday.

Maccabi Tel Aviv also took a first step towards the group stage, claiming a far more straightforward 2-0 win over KF Tirana of Albania.

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Brazilian midfielder Georginho gave Beitar the lead 19 minutes into his debut, but Vasas responded with two goals before the break courtesy of Yevgen Pavlov (36, 43).

Matters went from bad to worse for Jerusalem, which was hosting the match in Petah Tikva in front of empty stands due to a punishment from UEFA for the unruly behavior of its fans, when Tamas Kulcsar opened a two-goal lead in the 52nd minute.

Vasas maintained its advantage until the 88th minute, but debutant Yossi Benayoun would spark a stunning comeback.

Benayoun, who came on as a substitute in the 56th minute after joining the club from Maccabi Tel Aviv last week, handed Beitar a lifeline by slotting in from close range after Itay Shechter did all the hard work. Benayoun then provided the assist for the equalizer three minutes later, with Idan Vered rounding the ’keeper to level the score. Erik Sabo completed the comeback a minute later and Beitar breathed a huge sigh of relief ahead of next Thursday’s second leg in Hungary.

“God loved us today,” said Beitar coach Sharon Mimer. “We made a lot of mistakes and I’m happy that we can try and correct them on the back of a win. If we will be ready next week we will complete the job.”

Benayoun was delighted to have helped the team to an important victory.

“To come back from 3-1 isn’t easy against any opponent and I’m happy we managed to do it,” said the 37-year-old veteran.

While Beitar is hoping to reach the group stage of continental competition for the first time in club history, Maccabi is aiming to do so for a third straight year.

Maccabi should have little trouble securing its progress to the second qualifying round in Albania next week despite a far from impressive performance in the first leg.

Goals from Yonatan Cohen (27) and Eli Dasa (64) ensured the yellow-and-blue got 2017/18 and Jordi Cruyff’s head coaching career off to a winning start in Netanya.

Elsewhere, two-time defending Premier League champion Hapoel Beersheba strengthened its squad on Thursday with the signing of former Barcelona midfielder Isaac Cuenca.

The 26-year-old has 16 La Liga appearances to his name from his time at Barcelona and played for Granada CF in the Spanish top division last season. Cuenca will help fill the void left by the departure of Maor Buzaglo, who is set to be out with a knee injury until January.

“I’m very happy and excited to be part of the Beersheba family,” said Cuenca, who will be Beersheba’s highest paid player after joining on a free transfer. “Thank you for the warm welcome.”

Cuenca will join his teammates in training next week after they return from their pre-season camp in Poland.

Beersheba begins its 2017/18 campaign on Wednesday, July 12 when it hosts Honved of Hungary in the first leg of the Champions League second qualifying round.

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