Israeli winners Maccabi Haifa qualify for Champions League

This is the first time an Israeli side has qualified for the Champions League since 2015 • for Haifa, this is the third qualification in the club's history

MACCABI HAIFA players had plenty to celebrate this week after beating host Olympiacos 4-0 in their Champions League second-leg duel to move on to the third qualifying round with a 5-1 aggregate victory (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
MACCABI HAIFA players had plenty to celebrate this week after beating host Olympiacos 4-0 in their Champions League second-leg duel to move on to the third qualifying round with a 5-1 aggregate victory
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)

Maccabi Haifa qualified for the UEFA Champions League group stage on Tuesday night, beating Serbian league champions Crvena Zvezda 5-4 on aggregate after a 2-2 draw in Belgrade.

Following a thrilling 3-2 win at Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa last week, the Greens held their nerves after going two goals down in the first half to the Serbian side, known in English as Red Star Belgrade, to come back and win the two-legged playoff.

A missed penalty by Haifa wide man Dolev Haziza was forgotten only a few seconds later, after a strike from 30 meters by Swedish defender Daniel Sundgren was deflected into the Red Star goal heading into halftime.

Very late into the second half and with extra time looking likely, controversial playmaker Omer Atzili lofted the ball into the Red Star area from a free kick and Serbian striker Milan Pavkov struck it into his own team's net, giving the Israeli champions a one-goal aggregate lead, one they would hold until full time.

 Maccabi Haifa fans inside the stadium (credit: REUTERS/ANNEGRET HILSE) Maccabi Haifa fans inside the stadium (credit: REUTERS/ANNEGRET HILSE)

Israeli clubs' record in European soccer competitions

This is the first time an Israeli side has qualified for the Champions League (CL) since 2015, when Maccabi Tel Aviv failed to get further than the group stage during the 2015/16 campaign.

For Haifa, this is the third UCL qualification in the club's history, the most of any Israeli team.

Maccabi Haifa became the first Israeli club to qualify for the Champions League in 2002. Their first campaign included famous victories against Greek side Olympiakos, who they beat last month in an earlier round of qualification, and Premier League giants Manchester United.

An unsuccessful CL appearance followed in 2009, with the club losing all six matches it was involved in, conceding eight goals, scoring none and finishing at the bottom of their group.