hapoel TA soccer 224.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Hapoel Tel Aviv will be Israel's only representative in the first round of the UEFA Cup after Eli Gutman's team comfortably defeated Serbia's FK Vojvodina 3-0 at Bloomfield Stadium on Thursday night, following the 0-0 draw away from home two weeks ago.
Maccabi Netanya coach Lothar Matthaus, meanwhile, was visibly disappointed with his team, which failed to advance to the last 80 of Europe's second-string competition, losing 2-0 at Bulgarian side Cherno More, and 3-1 on aggregate.
Ironi Kiryat Shmona's first foray into European play also ended on Thursday, with a 2-1 loss to another Bulgarian team, Litex Lovech, in a game played at Maccabi Haifa's Kiryat Eliezer Stadium. The first game in Bulgaria a fortnight ago had finished in a goalless draw.
Vojvodina was aiming to join fellow Serbian club FK Borac in Friday's first round draw, but had nothing against the swift movement and passing of Hapoel.
Tel Aviv will have to play one more tie to make it into the UEFA Cup group stage for the third year in a row.
Samuel Yeboah opened the scoring for the home team when he expertly headed in a Shai Abutbul free kick on 30 minutes.
Gili Vermut, who returned to Tel Aviv in the summer after a season at Belgium club KAA Gent, scored the second 15 minutes after halftime, when he sauntered into the penalty area and placed the ball past Vojvodina goalkeeper Djordje Babalj.
Abutbul put the cherry on the top when he scored from the penalty spot a quarter of an hour later.
Coach Gutman appeared satisfied and relaxed after the game.
"We didn't play great soccer but we had a number of quality moments," he concluded.
"Considering we are still going to begin playing in the Israeli league this is OK. Of course we still need to improve."
While Bloomfield was the fullest of the three stadiums Israeli teams played in on Thursday, there were still only around 5,000 supporters in an arena which holds 16,000.
The atmosphere at the Vasil Levski National Stadium in Bulgaria's capital of Sofia was markedly different for Maccabi Netanya.
The stadium was nearly empty and, despite playing relatively well in the opening minutes, the Diamonds found themselves a goal down after just seven minutes when Aleksandar Aleksandrov managed to lob Netanya goalkeeper Liran Strauber from the halfway line with an audacious effort.
Throughout the game Netanya pressured its opponent for the equalizer, only to let in a second goal in the 77th minute.
From that point, it was basically over and before long Netanya was out.
In Haifa, it was Kiryat Shmona which got off to a great start when Guy Tzarfati finished off an intricate move that included a backheel in the penalty box in the eighth minute.
However Lovech, which finished third in the Bulgarian league last season, was not going to sit back and they scored the tying goal 12 minutes later.
The winner for Litex came in the 57th minute when Brazilian Sandrinho found himself one-on-one with Kiryat Shmona keeper Yosef Bezalel and easily put it away.
Ironi coach Michel Dayan admitted after the game he knew it wasn't going to be easy. "I think the players gave everything they could," he said.