nir davidovich 88.
(photo credit: )
Maccabi Haifa's Champions League dream hangs in the balance after the Israeli champion drew 0-0 with Aktobe FC of Kazakhstan in the first leg of the third qualifying round on Tuesday.
Haifa controlled the first half and Yaniv Katan and Vladimir Dvalishvili should have given the visitors the lead by the break.
The hosts were the better team in the second half, but 'keeper Nir Davidovich maintained a clean sheet and ensured Haifa can advance to the final qualifying round for the Champions League group stage with even the smallest of victories in the return leg at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium next week.
Haifa was the first Israeli team to qualify for the group stage in 2002, with Maccabi Tel Aviv the only other Israeli club to do so since, reaching the group stage in 2004.
"This is a fair result," Haifa coach Elisha Levy said after the match.
"As expected, this was a very tough encounter. We had some chances to decide the game in the first half, and in the second half it was only natural that they would push forward in search of an advantage ahead of the return leg. They controlled the possession, but failed to create scoring opportunities."
Georgian striker Dvalishvili, who scored twice against Glentoran at Kiryat Eliezer in the second qualifying round, promised to make up for Tuesday's missed chances in next week's decisive match.
"I reached a few scoring opportunities and it's a shame and didn't manage to convert them," Dvalishvili said. "I'm sorry, but I believe I will repay this debt soon."
A victory next week will secure Haifa at the very least a place in the Europa League group stage, as the losers in the final Champions League qualifying round will be handed an automatic berth to continental soccer's second most prestigious competition.
In other news, Bnei Yehuda will take a 1-0 lead into the second leg of the Europa League's third qualifying round next week after claiming a tight victory against FC PaÃ§os de Ferreira of Portugal in the first leg at Bloomfield Stadium on Tuesday.
Guy Luzon's team improved to five for five in the competition's qualifying stages after it beat Simurq PFC of Azerbaijan and Dinaburg FC of Latvia in both legs of the first and second qualifying rounds respectively.
The evenly balanced first leg could have gone either way on Tuesday, and the encounter was decided by a single goal from the ultra-talented Eliran Atar.
Luzon decided to rest Atar and left him on the bench, but desperate for a goal, the coach introduced the young striker in the 52nd minute and three minutes later he bagged the winner.
"I think PaÃ§os started the match better than us, but we worked very hard to take control of the encounter and I think we deserved to win," Luzon said.
"We must stay modest as we only have the smallest of leads and this was only the first half. I would have settled for this result before the match. I can promise we will be entering the second leg with the aim of winning and moving on."
Hapoel Tel Aviv and Maccabi Netanya will play their third qualifying round first legs on Thursday.
Tel Aviv visits two-time UEFA Cup winner IFK Goteborg of Sweden, with Netanya to host Turkish giant Galatasaray at Bloomfield Stadium.