Israeli soccer is moving into full gear as both Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Beersheba head into the playoff round of the UEFA Conference League,
Beitar Jerusalem, under new owner Barak Abramov, played its first game of the new season in Toto Cup action, while a number of other clubs also featured in the competition just ahead of the start of the league, which gets underway next weekend.
Maccabi Tel Aviv slipped by Aris Thessaloniki 3-2 on aggregate despite falling 2-1 in the second leg of their UEFA Conference League third-round qualifying tie. The result – following a 2-0 home win the previous week in Tel Aviv – advanced Maccabi into the competition’s playoff round, where it will face Nice.
Yellow-and-blue midfielder Dan Glazer was issued a red card in the 57th minute, which led to a penalty goal for the hosts, but thanks to Eran Zahavi’s second-half strike Vladen Ivic’s side was able to make it through to the next round of play.
After a goalless first half, the Scottish referee John Beaton lost control of the match and issued a questionable red card to Glazer, after which Andre Gray converted a penalty for a 1-0 Aris lead in the 60th minute.
With Maccabi Tel Aviv reduced to 10-men, Ivic inserted Zahavi as the striker looked to lift some of the pressure off of the visitors with a goal, and that’s exactly what he did less than 10 minutes after entering the fray.
Gaby Kanichowsky gave Zahavi a brilliant ball which freed up No. 7 to go in all alone on the ’keeper to draw Maccabi even at 1-1.
Chiek Doukoure scored in the 81st minute to give Aris a one-goal lead once again and close the aggregate gap to 2-1. But Ivic’s squad was able to hold on over the final minutes to punch its ticket to the playoff round, where French outfit Nice – which drew 1-1 with Toulouse in their local Ligue 1 opener – will be waiting.
After the win, Zahavi gave his assessment of the contest.
“It’s really great,” said the Israeli star. “It’s also great because this was so tough. These games bring a team together and it shows our character that we can handle these types of difficult situations.”
Zahavi also looked ahead to the very tough playoff round tie against French side Nice.
“The atmosphere at Bloomfield Stadium against Nice has to be even better.”
Tel Aviv defender Enric Saborit also spoke about the two-legged tie.
“We’re happy that we were able to advance to the playoff round. This was a very tough game in a difficult stadium with a terrific atmosphere, but our fans really helped us out as well. We did a good job at Bloomfield and that gave us the advantage we needed to get by Aris. We worked on playing these types of games throughout training camp and I believe that we have a strong team that can play in these matches.”
Hapoel Beersheba's game
At the Netanya Stadium, meanwhile, Hapoel Beersheba dominated Lugano 3-1 in the second leg of their UEFA Conference League third-round qualifying matchup. The Southern Reds took the two-legged tie 5-1 to advance to the playoff round, where they will meet Craiova for the right to play in the group stages of the competition.
Elyaniv Barda’s squad came out a tad slow in the first half, but picked up the pace after ’keeper Omri Glazer saved Jonathan Sabbatini’s 42nd-minute penalty. Beersheba then scored three second-half goals to secure the impressive victory.
Next up will be a date with Universitatea Craiova, which easily disposed of Zorya Luhansk 3-0 in the second leg of their tie to take the match 3-1 on aggregate.
Ironically the Ukrainian side is coached by former Maccabi Tel Aviv bench boss Patrick van Leeuwen, who is assisted by one-time Maccabi Netanya coach Raymond Atteveld. The playoff round gets under way next Thursday night in Romania, while the second leg will be played at Turner Stadium in Beersheba.
After a goalless first half thanks to a big penalty stop by Omri Glazer, Barda’s squad poured on the offense as Miguel Vitor headed home a Ramzi Safouri corner kick to give the hosts a 1-0 lead in the 50th minute.
A quarter-hour later, Vitor was once involved in the scoring as he was tangled up with Albian Hajdari, who accidentally knocked the ball into his own goal to give Beersheba a 2-0 advantage.
Ousmane Doumbia pulled the visitors to within one goal on a penalty, but Rotem Hatual slotted home the Southern Reds’ third goal to wrap up the two matches with a 5-1 aggregate victory to move into the playoff round.
Beersheba’s captain and the man of the match, Vitor, reflected on the win.
“Our main goal was to advance. We spoke about this before the match as to how we can’t blow the chance to move on. We didn’t play well and it’s just the start of the season, but we will improve.”
Beitar Jerusalem drops the ball
Meanwhile, Hapoel Tel Aviv defeated Beitar Jerusalem 2-1 in an entertaining matchup at Bloomfield Stadium.
Beitar scored a pair of second-half goals via Shlomi Azoulay corners that Kayes Ganem and Alen Ozbolt, respectively, headed behind ’keeper Netanel Deloya. Yarden Shua pulled back a late goal for Jerusalem in the 95th minute, but it was too little, too late, to find a way to take a point.
Yossi Abukasis’s Beitar entered its first game of the season after a whirlwind week that saw former Bnei Yehuda owner Abramov take over the reins from Moshe Hogeg in the capital city.
The yellow-and-black looked strong over the first half of the game, but ran out of gas in the second half when it gave up the pair of goals on set-pieces.
“We are a team that wants to score and we were able to create a tremendous amount of chances,” Hapoel coach Kobi Refuah said. “There was only one team on the pitch and the goal we gave up was unnecessary, but all in all this was a good game for us.”
“Over the past couple of months we trained with a lot of uncertainty due to the ownership situation,” Abukasis noted. “The players deserve a lot of credit for working hard despite not knowing if their contracts would even be valid. We didn’t prepare that well and this was our first game, but the club was able to stay in the league thanks to Barak Abramov and I believe everything will be just fine.”
Elsewhere, Hapoel Hadera downed Hapoel Haifa 3-1 as Sa’ar Fadida, Samy Bourard and Tomer Machluf scored for Asaf Nimni’s side while Hanan Maman was only able to pull back a lone goal for Nir Klinger’s squad.
Also, Ironi Kiryat Shmona slipped by Bnei Reineh 2-1 as Roie Kehat starred with a pair of assists for the northerners in the win.
Finally, Hapoel Jerusalem blanked Sektzia Nes Ziona 2-0. Newcomer Nadav Nidam – on loan from Maccabi Tel Aviv – helped the capital city Reds with a pair of brilliant through-balls that led to tallies from William Togui and Guy Badash to hand Ziv Arie’s squad the victory.