iryat Shmona’s Ugwu Uzochukwu Chukwuma.
(photo credit: UDI ZITIAT/BSL)
Ironi Kiryat Shmona got its Europa League qualifying campaign off to a losing start on Thursday night, but last season’s Premier League runner-up remains confident of advancing to the final playoff round thanks to Ahmed Abed’s precious away goal in the 89th minute.
Slovan Liberec still claimed a 2-1 win in the first leg of the third qualifying round in the Czech Republic, but Abed’s goal ensured Kiryat Shmona only requires a 1-0 victory at home next week to secure its progress.
Dzon Delarge gave Liberec the lead two minutes from the halftime break and the hosts looked to be heading towards a comfortable first-leg cushion after Herolind Shala doubled the advantage in the 84th minute, making the most of a mistake by goalkeeper Guy Haimov.
Kiryat Shmona captain Adrian Rochet squandered a golden opportunity to level the score when he only had goalkeeper Tomas Koubek to beat in the 60th minute, but the visitors did eventually find the back of the net on the verge of stoppage time.
Abed’s shot from the edge of the area took a fortuitous deflection, leaving Kiryat Shmona well placed to advance to the playoff round, from which the winners will progress to the group stage.
“We didn’t play well in the first half and barely registered any chances,” said Kiryat Shmona coach Salah Hasarma. “We improved after the interval but ended up conceding on the break. I’m glad that we continued pushing and netted a goal, which is very significant ahead of next week. We still have to win at home and I believe we will do so.”
Hasarma became the first Israeli-Arab coach to guide a top-flight Israeli club under Jewish ownership on Thursday.
Dozens of Arab players currently play in the Premier League in every club apart from Beitar Jerusalem, and in recent years they have grown in prominence, starring for their respected teams.
However, Arab coaches have rarely been given a chance to prove themselves even at the Arab-owned clubs in Israel’s two professional divisions.
“This was our first official match of the season and unfortunately it took us some time to find our rhythm,” said Rochet.
“I’m glad we managed to improve our play in the second half and scored an important goal, leaving the tie wide open.”
Meanwhile, Beitar Jerusalem was fined 3,000 euros by UEFA on Thursday for the unruly behavior of its supports in the second leg of the Europa League first qualifying round tie against Ordabasy Shymkent of Kazakhstan. Beitar, which was punished after its fans throw objects on the field, is still waiting to discover how it will be disciplined for the embarrassing scenes in Charleroi, Belgium, two weeks ago. UEFA’s Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body discussed the matter last week, but has yet to announce a decision.
Beitar is set to face a stiff punishment after being charged with racist behavior (banners and chants), improper conduct of supporters (breaking down fences), setting off and throwing of fireworks and objects and an illicit banner.
Nine-man Beitar was thrashed 5-1 in the first leg of the second qualifying round - a match that was held up at the start when fans threw dozens of incendiary devices onto the pitch, enveloping it in smoke.
In second half stoppage time, Charleroi goalkeeper Nicolas Penneteau was hit by a hard object thrown from the crowd, which forced another delay.
Charleroi was fined 28,000 euros and had one of its stands closed in Thursday’s third qualifying round first leg against Zorya of Ukraine after facing three charges: Racist behavior (gestures), setting off and throwing of fireworks and objects and insufficient organization (segregation of spectators).