maccabi haifa 88.
(photo credit: )
Maccabi Haifa arrived back in Israel on Wednesday morning following its 1-1 draw against Liverpool in the second leg of the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round in Kiev, Ukraine, on Tuesday night.
Despite receiving accolades from across Europe for its displays in the two legs against the 2005 European champion, Haifa was still bitterly disappointed that it had little to show for its efforts after losing the tie 3-2 on aggregate.
"We played well and we almost did it," Haifa coach Roni Levy said at Ben-Gurion Airport. "Obviously if the match would have been played in Israel everything would have been different. There are quality differences between us and Liverpool, but they could have been bridged by the advantage of playing on our home field. Anybody who is a part of Haifa can be proud of the team."
Liverpool was the better side at the start of the match and Haifa had goalkeeper Nir Davidovitch to thank for keeping it in the tie. Davidovitch was especially active during the first half ,with his heroics including three reflex-action stops from Liverpool's Spanish midfielder Luis Garcia.
Alain Masudi appeared to give Maccabi the lead in the 21st minute, but the goal was voided because Yaniv Katan was offside.
Liverpool eventually increased its overall lead in the 54th minute when England striker Peter Crouch headed home a cross from right winger Jermaine Pennant.
Maccabi replied nine minutes after going behind when Brazilian midfielder Anderson dribbled past four men and, after his shot was blocked by keeper Jose Reina, Roberto Colautti tapped the ball into an empty net.
Haifa pushed forward in search of a second goal that would send the match into extra-time but was unable to break down the Liverpool defense.
With eight minutes to go Colautti was denied a second goal when his powerful shot was pushed over the bar by Reina. Maccabi also had its appeals for a penalty rejected in the final minutes when Eyal Meshumar went down in the box but was issued a yellow card for diving instead of the penalty kick he was searching for.
"It was a difficult game, they were no mugs at all, they proved that," goalscorer Crouch said after the match. "It wasn't the prettiest of wins, but it's got us through."
Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez could not hide his relief when the final whistle sounded and after the match revealed his pleasure with the result.
"It was a difficult game but it's good to have qualified. I am really happy," said Benitez. "We dominated the first half and should have scored more, and had it not been for their goalkeeper who was man of the match, we would have done so.
"We could not score the second goal to finish the tie, and that gives teams confidence to keep going right to the end. Haifa is a well organized, good attacking side and they did give us problems. But we created by far the most chances and deserve to go through to the group stages."
Despite the disappointment of not reaching the Champions League group stage Levy was still delighted at his team's showing.
"I am very proud of my team for the way they played against a really big club," Levy said after the final whistle. "It was always going to be difficult for us with the way we had to play here in Kiev and not in Israel. At this level of competition, home advantage is crucial.
"Liverpool got a very late winner at Anfield because of their home backing, and we would have done much better had we been on home soil.
"Do not forget we were playing one of Europe's biggest clubs and held them to a draw. Maybe in Israel it would have been different."
Levy's next objective will be to guide his team to the UEFA Cup group stage. All Champions League third round losers automatically join the first round of the UEFA Cup and should Haifa beat its opponent it will take part in the group stage of the competition.
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