In a barnburner of a matchup late Wednesday night at Sammy Ofer Stadium, Maccabi Haifa was able to escape with a 3-2 comeback win over Red Star Belgrade thanks to a pair of goals by Frantzdy Pierrot in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League Play-Off round.
Dolev Haziza starred for Barak Bachar’s squad as the midfielder set up all three of the Greens’ markers with incredible touch and class via a goalline cross and a vicious curler for a Pierrot brace, while the third strike came via Tjaron Chery.
Dejan Stankovic’s Red Star grabbed a 2-1 lead at halftime on goals by Aleksandar Pesic and Guelor Kanga, but Pierrot and Chery turned the table as Haifa now heads to Serbia with a one-goal advantage.
“We started the game well, took a 1-0 lead and we could have scored even more,” Bachar began. “But then we gave up a goal and we lost a bit of momentum. At halftime I told the players that we have to begin like we did in the first half in what wasn’t an easy game. The players showed a lot of character in a match that was played at a very fast pace.”
Stankovic also reflected on the result.
“The game was tough and both teams had the same goals,” said the Red Star coach. “They were at home and what is important is the score now and the one-goal difference won’t be an issue back in Belgrade. I’m not upset about the result, but the game is 90 minutes and during that time there are some good things and bad things. I’m not concerned as we head into the second game.”
Haifa’s Chery also shared his thoughts on the game.
“I really enjoyed this and that’s important. We wanted to win the game at this level, we waited for this and it happened. But we still have another goal next week. I hope that what we did was enough. This was a great game with a fantastic crowd, but the next game will be different. However, if we play the way we did then we have a good chance to advance to the group stages.”
Maccabi threatened the Red Star goal early on as Chery’s chance went just wide left of the far post, but the visitors came right back and came up empty on a golden opportunity of their own when Pesic missed the target as the game remained goalless after a quarter-hour of play.
Bachar’s charges continued to control the tempo and their efforts paid off when Dolev Haziza not only saved the ball from going out but was able to send a cross to an oncoming Pierrot, who turned and slotted the ball home for a 1-0 lead in the 18th minute.
Ten minutes later Red Star came right back as Aleksandar Katia’s shot from outside the box deflected off of ex-Maccabi Tel Aviv marksman Pesic to beat a helpless Josh Cohen and Belgrade even at 1-1.
Red Star began to look much more confident after finding the equalizer and Osman Bukari sent Kanga a nice pass as the attacking midfielder whipped a scorcher right by the Haifa ’keeper for a 2-1 lead at the break.
Crvena Zvezda controlled the pace out of the gate to begin the second half, but Haifa calmly took its chances as Haziza rifled a cross into the box that Pierrot nodded behind Borjan to tie the game up at 2-2 in the 51st minute.
All of the pressure paid off 10 minutes after the tying goal when Haziza once again was the maestro as he handed off the ball to Chery, who sent the ball on the ground and into the far corner to give Haifa a stunning 3-2 lead.
Nikita Rukavytsya came on for Pierrot and had a great opportunity to give Haifa a two-goal lead. However, Milan Borjan was able to push the ball away from any trouble as the game headed towards its twilight and a one-goal advantage for the Greens as they head to Belgrade.