Mac Haifa 248.88.
(photo credit: Channel 10)
Maccabi Haifa advanced to the final Champions League qualifying round in the most remarkable fashion on Tuesday night, coming back from a 3-0 deficit to defeat FK Aktobe of Kazakhstan 4-3 at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium.
After the first leg of the third qualifying round ended in a 0-0 draw last week, the visitors got off to a stunning start on Tuesday, scoring three times in the first 15 minutes to open what is usually an unassailable lead.
However, captain Yaniv Katan pulled his team out of the doldrums when he scored with a solo effort in the 25th minute and Haifa was only one goal down at the break after substitute Eyal Golasa's shot was deflected into the back of the net.
Haifa continued to throw caution to wind in the second half and two well-taken goals by Vladimir Dvalishvili within four minutes completed the team's dramatic comeback and ensured Haifa will be playing European soccer well into December.
Haifa will be drawn in the Champions League playoffs on Friday and even if it fails to win the tie and advance to the prestigious group stage, it will experience a lengthy continental run this season, with the losers of the final qualifying round being handed an automatic berth to the Europa League group stage.
"I don't remember such drama in such an important match," coach Elisha Levy said.
"We hadn't taken our seats yet and we were trailing by three goals. Our defensive play was very disappointing. But we came back and after we scored our first goal I saw the match is alive and that we can go all the way. I'm delighted we managed to comeback from such a difficult situation and it really was a difficult situation."
Haifa pressed forward at the start of the match, but after just seven minutes was caught on the break.
Goalkeeper Nir Davidovich made a complete hash of Aleksandr Mitrofanov's long-range effort, palming the ball right into the path of Evgeni Averchenko, who smashed the ball into the back of the net with ease.
Six minutes later, the hosts found themselves two goals down.
Anton Chichulin made the most of some awful marking by the Haifa defense and doubled his team's advantage with a header.
Just when it seemed that matters could not get any worse for Maccabi, Aktobe scored its third.
Marat Khairullin strolled unchallenged through the Haifa defense and his accurate left-footed shot gave the Kazakh champion a 3-0 lead after 15 minutes.
It took Haifa 10 minutes to recover from the shock of conceding three quick goals, and it was Katan who renewed the team's hopes of making an improbable comeback.
Katan shrugged off a couple of defenders before turning and placing the ball in the bottom left corner.
Eight minutes later, Haifa got well and truly back into the tie.
Three minutes after coming on to replace Lior Rafaelov, Golasa struck what seemed to be a harmless shot from the edge of the area, but his effort took a fortuitous deflection and gave 'keeper Andrei Sidelnikov no chance.
Golasa came very close to tying the score in the 39th minute, but after passing the 'keeper, failed to place a dangerous shot on goal.
The hosts kept their foot on the gas at the start of the second half and two goals in four minutes completed the amazing turnaround.
Golasa squandered the first chance of the half in the 54th minute, but five minutes later no one would remember his miss.
Dvalishvili was perfectly positioned for Katan's corner and headed in the equalizer.
Three minutes later, the Georgian put Haifa in the lead.
Dvalishvili turned his defender and released an unstoppable shot to put the hosts in front.
Peter Masilela could have wrapped up the win in the 71st minute had his shot been slightly more to the right and not hit the post.
However, despite some tense moments, Haifa was never really threatened by the exhausted Kazakhs and held on comfortably for an unforgettable victory.
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