Hap TA storms into group stage in style

Reds claim 4-1 aggregate victory with road rout at Ekranas; tear gas in Mac TA-Pana.

Hapoel Tel Aviv midfielder Elroei Cohen celebrates (photo credit: REUTERS)
Hapoel Tel Aviv midfielder Elroei Cohen celebrates
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Hapoel Tel Aviv joined Maccabi Haifa in the group stage of the Europa League on Thursday night, defeating FK Ekranas of Lithuania 4-0 at Bloomfield Stadium to complete a 4-1 aggregate victory.
Hapoel was bitterly disappointing in last week’s 1-0 first-leg loss in Lithuania, but it dominated the return leg in Bloomfield and fully deserved to advance to the group stage of a European competition for the fifth time in the last six years.
“I think this match was a direct continuation to the improvement we showed against Maccabi Petah Tikva in the league on Monday,” Hapoel coach Dror Kashtan said. “We achieved our goal, but I’m still hungry for more success.”
Haifa will be in Friday’s Europa League groups draw following its Champions League exit at the hands of KRC Genk on Tuesday, with Maccabi Tel Aviv taking a 3-0 lead into the second leg of its playoff tie against Greece’s Panathinaikos, which ended after press time on Thursday night.
Maccabi’s match in Athens was delayed for almost 30 minutes after police fired tear gas into the stands with the encounter less than five minutes old when Panathinaikos fans tried to enter the section in which the yellow-andblue supporters were seated.
At Bloomfield, Hapoel looked to pressure the Lithuanians from the start, but the hosts struggled to break down Ekranas’s defensive formation.
In the 31st minute, Omer Damari very nearly scored with a cheeky back-heal, but ’keeper Emilijus Zubas was well placed to collect the ball on the goal line.
Six minutes later, however, Hapoel finally managed to break through the Lithuanian bunker.
Iyad Khutaba found Elroei Cohen with a clever cross and the midfielder headed in the opener.

Cohen’s goal tied the encounter on aggregate, but Hapoel immediately pushed forward in search of a crucial second and it would score it eight minutes after the break.
Once more Khutaba provided the assist, but this time it was Damari who slid in to give the Reds a 2-0 lead.
The hosts knew a third goal would kill off the tie and they finally got it nine minutes from time after missing numerous chances.
Damari slid the ball through to Toto Tamuz, who easily found the back of the net before Maharan Lala completed the scoring in stoppage time to ensure Hapoel scored four goals for a third straight home match.