soccer ball 88.
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Maccabi Petah Tikva's hopes of reaching the UEFA Cup for the third straight year were dealt a crushing blow Saturday in the form of a 2-0 home defeat in Herzliya to Ethnikos Achnas FC of Cyprus in the third round of the Intertoto Cup.
Ethnikos, which began the competition in the first round last month, will host the return leg next Saturday, with the aggregate winner taking a spot in the second qualifying round of the UEFA Cup.
The third round of the Intertoto Cup sees some big clubs in action, including Newcastle of England, Hibs in Scotland, Spain's Villarreal and France's Olympique Marseille.
Petah Tikva, which overcame Zrinjski of Bosnia in the second round, seemed to break down in the second half against Ethnikos. Even in the first half, during which Maccabi seemed to control the flow of the game, Ethnikos had the better chances and the game remained tied at halftime only due to the strong play of Petah Tikva 'keeper Ohad Cohen.
That changed in the 65th minute, when Lars Schlichting headed in Christos Kotsonis's cross to give the Cypriots a 1-0 advantage.
Twelve minutes later, Levani Kebadze put the game away when he latched onto a ball in the box and slotted it by Cohen.
Petah Tikva had numerous chances to score and will certainly rue captain Murad Magomedov's header that went wide off a corner in injury time.
Despite the big deficit, Petah Tikva fans have some reasons for optimism. The club was without some of its top players, including strikers Omer Golan and Cameroonian Patrick Suffo and Nigerian midfielder Blessing Kaku, who may play next week.
Furthermore, the team trailed Partizan Belgrade 2-0 after the first leg in the first round of last season's UEFA Cup, but responded with a 5-2 thrashing in Serbia to become the first Israeli team to advance to the competition's group stage.