Hapoel Tel Aviv took a significant step toward advancing from Europa League's Group C on Thursday night, thrashing Rapid Vienna 5-1 at Bloomfield Stadium for its second win in three group matches.
Hapoel knew it had to win to maintain a reasonable chance of finishing in the top two in its group and advancing to the round of 32, but no one dreamed it would do so in such an emphatic manner.
After the first half ended in a 1-1 draw, Hapoel blitzed Vienna at the start of the second half, scoring three goals in 15 minutes to stun Rapid, which had led the group entering Thursday's match. Maharan Lala completed the stunning win with a 90th-minute strike.
Tel Aviv and Hamburg, which defeated Celtic 1-0 in Glasgow on Thursday, are tied on six points at the top of the group, with the Germans in front thanks to their 4-2 victory over Hapoel two weeks ago.
Rapid is a further two points back, with Celtic bottom of the group at the halfway mark with a single point from three matches.
In two weeks, Hapoel travels to Vienna, with Hamburg hosting the Scots.
Rapid recorded the first chance of the night within the first minute of the match, setting the tempo to an open and lively encounter. Veli Kavlak should have done better with his header, but his attempt was off target and Hapoel was spared.
After the early shock, the hosts began to push forward in search of the opener and in the ninth minute Itai Shechter registered Hapoel's first chance of the match. The 22-year-old created space for himself on the edge of the area, but his left-footed shot was off target.
Hapoel was living dangerously by sending so many players forward, and in the 16th minute should have found itself a goal down. Nikica Jelavic did all the hard work, but from five meters out he inexplicably sent his shot out off the upright. Rapid was wasteful once more seconds later, with Markus Katzer missing a free header from the ensuing corner.
In the 30th minute, Hapoel made Vienna pay for its missed chances. The Austrians' defense could not handle Shechter's pace and power, and his cross from the right byline was turned into the back of the net by Rapid's Andreas Dober.
Less than two minutes later, however, Vienna would equalize. The Hapoel defense could not cope with Steffen Hofmann's free kick and goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama watched helplessly as the ball hit the back of the net.
The relentless pace would continue in the subsequent minutes, with
Hapoel's Douglas da Silva coming tantalizingly close with a header in the 33rd minute, and Jelavic hitting the crossbar at the other end seconds later.
Nine minutes after the break, the hosts would get the reward for their efforts and regained the lead. Georgian Zurab Menteshashvili released a stunning shot from 30 meters out, which gave 'keeper Helge Payer no chance and screamed into the back of the net.
Five minutes later, Shechter gave Hapoel the cushion it so desperately needed. Tel Aviv broke forward and Shechter terrorized his defender before sending an unstoppable right-footed effort into the bottom right corner beyond Payer.
Hapoel's third goal sent Rapid into complete shock and it was not long before the hosts wrapped up the win. In the 69th minute, Dedi Ben-Dayan picked out Gili Vermut just inside the box, where the gifted playmaker found the back of the net and ensured it would be a memorable European night at Bloomfield.
After coming on as a substitute, Lala put the icing on the cake with a fifth goal in the 90th minute to cap a remarkable victory that Hapoel fans will not soon forget.
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