maccabi haifa 298 88 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Liverpool defeated Maccabi Haifa in their Champions League third qualifying round tie after a 1-1 draw in the second leg Tuesday night in Kiev, Ukraine. Liverpool advanced to the group stage with a 3-2 aggregate victory.
All Haifa needed for qualification was a 1-0 win following Liverpool's 2-1 first leg victory two weeks ago. Haifa took an early lead at Anfield thanks to a Gustavo Boccoli goal in the 29th minute, but Liverpool equalized after four minutes through Craig Bellamy and won the match thanks to an 88th minute winner by substitute Mark Gonzalez.
Haifa, which was forced to play its home leg abroad due to UEFA's decision to ban the playing of European matches in Israel, was only be followed by a couple of hundred of its fans and will need to get the job done on foreign soil in front of a foreign crowd.
"Our situation is not ideal. We would have preferred to play in front of our own fans," Haifa coach Roni Levy said before the match. "We have our pride and we will do the maximum. The pressure is on us and the expectations are high."
Liverpool landed in Kiev on Monday afternoon following a 90 minute delay at the John Lennon airport in Liverpool due to a security scare. The team arrived without defenders Jamie Carragher and John Arne Riise who were injured during Saturday's 1-1 draw at Sheffield United.
In the pre-game interview, Liverpool coach Rafael Benitez showed that he realizes how vital the match is and on Monday the Spaniard was very clear that he is not underestimating his opponent.
"We know how important this game is financially, for our confidence, for the club and for the fans," he said. "Haifa is a good side with a good manager and good players but we know what this match means to our club and I'm confident we'll get the right result."
As soon as Liverpool was drawn against Haifa last month, Benitez made his feelings clear that he thinks his team should not need to travel to Israel due to the conflict that was raging with Hizbullah at the time.
In Monday's press conference, the Spanish coach was barraged by questions from Israeli journalists on why he didn't want his team to go to Israel, but his only response was, "I am thinking only of football. It was a UEFA decision and that is why we are here."
Despite not having many of its regular fans with them in the Ukraine, Haifa can at least console itself with hundreds of local Jews who will attend the match thanks to the Jewish Agency who have paid for tickets.
"The initiative is important for the youngsters because it is an original way of connecting them to the state of Israel," Jewish agency chairman Ze'ev Beilski said. "At the same time they will be helping Haifa who will have hundreds of enthusiastic Jews supporting them in the stands."
Levy will have an almost full squad to pick from with only defender Adoram Keisi missing because of an injury. The Israeli coach, who is expected to field the same 11 players that started at Anfield, will hope for a repeat performance from a fortnight ago by Boccoli and Xavier Dirceo who starred for the greens in England.
Levy said he knows that despite scoring an away goal and getting a relatively positive result in England, Haifa still faces an uphill task. Even so, the coach remains positive.
"The Liverpool players are only humans and they also have weaknesses," he said. "We understand that if we train hard and work hard we can raise our level of play. The result from the first leg gives us a chance of advancing and we have everything to play for."
ON TV: Maccabi Haifa vs Liverpool (live on Channel 2 at 9:35 p.m.)