Shimon Abu Hazeira from Ironi Kiryat Shmona 370.
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Ironi Kiryat Shmona will have a mountain to climb next week to reach the Champions League group stage after falling to a 2-0 defeat to BATE Borisov of Belarus in the first leg of the playoffs on Wednesday night.
The heroics of goalkeeper Danny Amos kept Kiryat Shmona alive in the first half, but Vitali Rodionov still scored twice for the hosts (29, 78), the second after Kiryat Shmona’s Dusan Matovic was sent off, and the Israeli champion will need to record a stunning turnaround to advance to the showcase competition of European soccer.
However, even should Kiryat Shmona fail next Tuesday, it will still be able to console itself with a place in the Europa League group stage.
Borisov began to pile the pressure on Kiryat Shmona right from the start and Amos was called into action almost immediately.
Aleksandr Volodko was given far too much space on the edge of the area with the match less than four minutes old, but Amos timed his dive to perfection to clear the danger.
Former Barcelona and Arsenal midfielder Aleksandr Hleb thought he had already scored in the 20th minute, only for Amos to spring out of nowhere to parry the ball onto the post to deny the Belarusians.
Nine minutes later, Amos was helpless.
Rodionov easily shrugged off Shir Tzedek in the box before slotting in the opener.
BATE wasted no time in pushing for a second goal, with Kiryat Shmona spending long minutes camped in its own box.
The visitors had Amos to thank once more for keeping the deficit to a single goal in the 40th minute, with the ‘keeper spreading himself to deny Dmitri Mozolevski.
Kiryat Shmona was kept on its back foot for the first 40 minutes, but reached a couple of golden opportunities to turn the tie on its head in the final five minutes of the first half.
In the 42nd minute, Shimon Abu Hazeira was put through on goal by a superb pass from Darko Tasevski, but he couldn’t beat Andrei Gorbunov with his shot.
Abu Hazeira found himself with just the ‘keeper to beat yet again in the first minute of stoppage time, but was denied this time by a last-ditch tackle by defender Marko Simic.
Despite reaching two late chances in the first half, Kiryat Shmona coach Gili Landau decided to return to a 4-4-2 formation in the second half, replacing defender Ben Vahaba with midfielder Ahmed Abed, and the Israeli champion looked far better.
However, its hopes suffered a massive blow in the 70th minute when left-back Matovic was sent off by referee Howard Webb with a questionable second yellow card.
Kiryat Shmona still sent players forward in an attempt to score an equalizer and it was punished at the other end in the 78th minute.
Borisov broke forward and Rodionov had all the time in the world to pick his spot to give the Belarusians a significant advantage ahead of the return leg.