Maccabi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Beersheba in good shape to advance to UEFA

As European campaigns pick up speed, the local league kicks off.

 Picture of Maccabi Tel Aviv's Stipe Perica vs Nice (photo credit: MACCABI TEL AVIV/COURTESY)
Picture of Maccabi Tel Aviv's Stipe Perica vs Nice
(photo credit: MACCABI TEL AVIV/COURTESY)

It was a busy few days for Israeli soccer as Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Beersheba are in prime position to advance to the UEFA Conference League group stage while the local Premier League season got underway with a trio of matches.

Maccabi Tel Aviv slipped by OGC Nice 1-0 at Bloomfield Stadium late Thursday thanks to a late second-half goal by Stipe Perica in the first leg of UEFA Conference League Play-Off round action.

The yellow-and-blue faced a tough French squad that featured the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Andy Delort on the attack along with star keeper Kasper Schmeichel, but Vladen Ivic’s squad was able to keep Lucian Favre’s charges at bay throughout the contest.

Maccabi countered up front with Eran Zahavi, who made his first start of the season alongside striker Djorde Jovanovic, but it was shot-stopper Daniel Peretz who made the stunning saves time and time again to stymie Nice.

"Our keeper saved us numerous times and I want to congratulate my players who played a superb game.”

Vladen Ivic
MACCABI TEL AVIV’S Stipe Perica shoots against Nice goalkeeper Kasper Shmeichel during the yellow-and-blue’s 1-0 home win in the first leg of the Conference League clashMACCABI TEL AVIV’S Stipe Perica shoots against Nice goalkeeper Kasper Shmeichel during the yellow-and-blue’s 1-0 home win in the first leg of the Conference League clash

Perica came on in the 69th minute for Zahavi and netted the winner five minutes later when Jovanovic headed the ball to the Croatian marksman, who he flicked it over an oncoming Schmeichel to take the one-goal advantage to the French Riviera next week where Maccabi will look to advance to the group stage.

“Our second half was much better than the first,” Ivic began. “But this is just the first 90 minutes of 180 and the return leg is next week. We faced a very tough and strong opponent and to defeat them you need at least 15 players at their peak. Our keeper saved us numerous times and I want to congratulate my players who played a superb game.”

Nice coach Lucian Favre was not happy after the match.

“Maccabi Tel Aviv didn’t deserve to win,” he declared. “We played well in the first half, but couldn’t score. In the second half, we just came apart and we lost. We could have scored in the first half and I believe that we can turn around the result at our home.”

Tel Aviv‘s Peretz also reflected on the game that was.

“It was great, but we haven’t qualified just yet. It’s only halftime. I played a good game as did the entire team and we gave everything we had on the pitch. This was not just another game and we aren’t scared of anyone. We respect every opponent and I love these types of games as it pushes you to the edge against top international players.”

Perica added: “It’s too early as we only played the first game of a two-legged tie. We expect a tough match in the return leg and we will have to remain focused. They are a very good team with some excellent players. In my opinion, this is the best team I played against during my time at Maccabi and they deserve a lot of respect.”

Meanwhile, Hapoel Beersheba and Craiova drew 1-1 in Romania as the decisive match will be played next week at Turner Stadium.

After a fairly even first half, Craiova defender Paul Papp was sent off following an incident at halftime when the players were headed to their respective locker rooms.

With a man advantage, red-hot Rotem Hatuel was able to head home the ball for Beersheba after Tomer Hemed’s attempt had been stopped at point-blank range. However, Hatem Elhamed’s foul in the box saw him sent off and allowed Andrei Ivan to find the equalizer for Craiova from the penalty spot as the game ended all knotted up.

“Craiova were in complete control over the first 30 minutes,” said Beersheba coach Elyaniv Barda said. “It took us time to get into the game and when we were playing against 10 men it was an entirely different story and we were able to score. But we gave up a goal and also saw a man sent off so that is disappointing, but that’s soccer. I’m never happy when we don’t win but I believe that this was a decent result.”

In local action, Hapoel Haifa began the Premier League season on the right foot with a 2-0 win over Hapoel Tel Aviv at Sammy Ofer Stadium by the Carmel Mountain.

Nir Klinger’s squad had a very disappointing preseason and looked to be in trouble while Kobi Refuah’s team has been in fine form entering the new campaign.

However, the tables were turned as the curtain was raised to begin play.

Dudu Twito opened the scoring by beating a helpless Stefan Marinovic from inside the box for a 1-0 Haifa lead in the 25th minute while Shoval Gozlan doubled the advantage deep inside second-half injury time to take the three points.

“It’s always exciting to begin a new season and we got off to a good start,” Kilnger said. “This was positive and we knew how to take this game, but I don’t want to get too excited with the win. We will keep our feet to the ground but all in all, this was a nice win over a good team.”

Elsewhere, Maccabi Netanya dominated Beitar Jerusalem 4-1 as Igor Zlatanovic scored a hat-trick at the Netanya Stadium to give Benny Lam’s team the points.

After 30 minutes of play, Gil Itzhak broke the ice to get on the board for the hosts, who then quickly went up 2-0 when Zlatanovic scored off a defensive error by Max Grechkin.

Danilo Asprilla pulled a goal back for Beitar to cut the lead to 2-1, but just ahead of the break Zlatanovic scored again as he went around Grenchkin with ease to score his second of the first half.

Zlatanovic completed his hat-trick with a 68th-minute penalty to give Netanya the win and the three points.

“This was just an average game for us and I expected a bit more from my team despite scoring four goals,” Lam said. “I always believed in Zlatanovic as he kept working hard. He is a striker of the highest level and knows how to score when given the opportunity.”

“We knew it was going to be tough and we aren’t ready for the season,” noted disappointed Beitar coach Yossi Abuksais. “We made some horrible mistakes defensively and we paid the price for every one of those mistakes. Netanya is a very good team and intelligent with their play. I’m very disappointed with the players due to their errors.”

Also, Hapoel Jerusalem and Hapoel Hadera drew 1-1 in a match that took place at the Moshava Stadium due to an electrical issue at Teddy Stadium.

Jordan Botaka gave the capital city Reds the lead in the 20th minute, but a second-half own-goal by Nadav Nidam on a poor clearance found its way into the Jerusalem net as each team took home a point.

“We’re very disappointed,” Jerusalem coach Ziv Arie began. “We needed to win this game where we could have taken advantage of our good first half, but then gave up a laughable own-goal. I want the club to play well, take points and bring joy to our fans who made their way to see us outside of the city.”