idan vered maccabi haifa_311.
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Maccabi Haifa advanced to the playoff round of the Champions League on Wednesday night, surviving some tense moments to draw 1-1 at NK Maribor and claim a 3-2 aggregate victory in the third qualifying round.
A superb goal by Idan Vered put Haifa in the driving seat in the 10th minute, but Marcos equalized for the Slovenian champion in the 32nd minute and the hosts needed just one more goal to force extra-time.
However, the Greens held on for the draw they needed and moved to within two matches of advancing to the group stage of European soccer’s most prestigious competition for the second time in three seasons.
Haifa will discover who it next faces on Friday, with the first leg to be played on August 16/17 and the return leg to take place the following week.
The Greens will be seeded in Friday’s draw in Nyon, Switzerland, but they are still set to face a stern test on their way to a possible meeting with Europe’s biggest clubs in the group stage.
Even if Haifa fails to make it past the playoffs, it has already guaranteed itself continental soccer deep into December, as the losers in the playoff round will receive a place in the group stage of the Europa League.
Haifa got the match off to an ideal start thanks to a spark of inspiration by Vered.
The 22-year-old midfielder raced down the left flank and after shaking his defender found the back of the net from the tightest of angles, firing his shot through the tiny gap available between the post and goalkeeper Jasmin Handanovic.
However, the visitors could not build on their early breakthrough and it was Maribor which controlled the remainder of the first half.
Robert Beric should have tied the score in the 26th minute, having all the time in the world five meters from Nir Davidovich’s goal, only to shoot just wide of the upright.
Five minutes later, however, the hosts got their equalizer.
Davidovich couldn’t handle Marcos’s header and the Brazilian slotted in the rebound to the delight of the local support.
Maccabi could have well found itself a goal down at the break, but
Davidovich kept out Beric’s shot with a superb save in the 39th minute
and Dejan Mezga’s attempt curled just wide three minutes later.
Dela Yampolsky’s introduction off the bench in the 54th minute sparked
Haifa into life and the Greens had more than one opportunity to put the
tie to rest with a second away goal.
Yampolsky sent a shot just wide moments after coming on and Vladimir
Dvalishvili and Eyal Golasa both fired high soon after, squandering
Haifa controlled the possession for much of the rest of the second half,
but it still had to sweat through the final minutes before finally
hearing the fulltime whistle that sent it through to the next round.