Maccabi Tel Aviv midfielder Avi Rikan.
(photo credit: MACCABI TEL AVIV WEBSITE)
Beitar Jerusalem and Maccabi Tel Aviv safely navigated their way through the first qualifying round of the Europa League on Thursday, triumphing in the first of the four ties they will need to win to reach the group stage.
Beitar completed a 7-3 aggregate win over Vasas in Hungary, claiming a 3-0 victory in the second leg. Hen Ezra netted a brace in the 10th and 61st minutes, with the opener coming moments after Itay Shechter had his penalty saved. Gaetan Varenne capped the scoring in stoppage time.
There was no repeat of the drama from the first leg in Israel when Beitar required three goals in five minutes, including two in stoppage time, to register a dramatic 4-3 win. Vasas was leading 3-1 in the 88th minute before Beitar registered a remarkable comeback.
Beitar, which was knocked out in the final qualifying round last season, next faces Botev Plovdiv of Bulgaria. Plovdiv completed a 4-1 aggregate win over Partizani of Albania on Thursday with a 1-0 victory at home.
Beitar visits Bulgaria for the first leg next Thursday before hosting the return leg a week later. Jerusalem will be expecting to progress to the third qualifying round without too much trouble, as will Maccabi Tel Aviv which next faces KR Reykjavik of Iceland.
Maccabi, which hosts Reykjavik in the first leg next Thursday, recorded a 5-0 aggregate victory over KF Tirana of Albania, winning 3-0 on the road on Thursday.
Tel Aviv entered the match against the Albanian second division side in control of the tie after claiming a 2-0 win at home in the first leg. Aaron Schoenfeld ended any illusion Tirana may have had of making a comeback when he broke the deadlock in the 50th minute, with Barak Itzhaki (80) and Avi Rikan (86) completing the scoring. Tirana played with 10 men from the 45th minute after Junior Sentamu received a red card for striking a Maccabi player away from the ball.
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. The yellow-and-blue played in the Champions League group stage two years ago and came through four qualifying ties to reach the Europa League groups last season.
“After a number of weeks of training and with the new players who arrived, there is still a lot of work to do and we need to strengthen the team,” said Maccabi coach Jordi Cruyff. “We are working hard to get to the most optimal position to be able to play various styles and press high. We are just in the middle of the goal that we want to reach.”