Israeli soccer is back in a big way as four teams played in European competitions over the past few days, while another half dozen are busy in the domestic Toto Cup preseason tournament.
Maccabi Haifa fell 1-0 at Sheriff Tiraspol in Moldova to begin the first leg of the second round of UEFA Champions League qualifying on the wrong foot.
Amine Dalal scored the lone goal of the contest in the 28th minute when he slotted the ball behind Haifa ’keeper Itamar Nitzan to record the victory.
The Greens will host the return leg on Wednesday at Sammy Ofer Stadium as Messay Dego’s squad will look to wipe out the minimal defeat and advance to the third round, where they would face the winner of the HŠK Zrinjski and ŠK Slovan Bratislava tie. Should they lose to Tiraspol, then they will drop into the third round of UEFA Conference League qualifying.
“We knew that this was going to be a game against a very good home team that knows how to defend,” Dego said following the game. “We created three or four 100% chances to score, but we didn’t and we gave up a goal that we shouldn’t have. This wasn’t a simple away match and we did everything to come back. Now we will head home to our stadium where we will have our fans who were missing in this game and I hope that we will do what we need to next week.”
At Bloomfield Stadium, Maccabi Tel Aviv eased by Petrocub 3-0 in Conference League second-round, first-leg qualifying play in a game that could have finished by an even higher margin.
The yellow-and-blue dominated play throughout the 90 minutes as Dan Bitton scored a blistering free kick to give the hosts a 1-0 lead .while Eran Zahavi with a left-footed strike and Dor Peretz from in close off a Djorde Jovanovic ball closed out the victory.
Maccabi to play in Moldova
Maccabi will now travel to Moldova for the second leg next Thursday as it will look to advance to the third round, where it would play the winner of the Torpedo-Belaz Zhodino and AEK Larnaca tie.
“Some parts of the game were good and when you win 3-0 it’s always nice,” Maccabi head coach Robbie Keane said. “I wasn’t too pleased with the first half, the energy wasn’t there as much as I would have liked, but we have to give them credit as they defended well with everyone behind the ball and we had to find solutions. We could have scored more goals and we didn’t manage to kill off the game earlier when we could have scored more.”
Peretz, who scored the third goal, also spoke about the victory.
“It’s good the game ended this way with a goal, but we still need to work on our play and our passing game. We controlled the pace of play for parts of the game, but we gave up the ball at times and we made some mistakes that we would pay for perhaps in other games. But, all in all, it was a good start and we are satisfied with that.”
Also in Conference League qualifying action, Beitar Jerusalem played to a goalless draw against PAOK Thessaloniki in Greece as ’keeper Miguel Silva saved a penalty and the yellow-and-black will now look to move onto the second round when the two sides meet up again next week in Jerusalem on Thursday night.
Should Beitar get by PAOK, it would face Hajduk Split in the third round of qualifying.
“This happens to be one of the toughest pitches with their fans and tons of emotions,” Beitar coach Yossi Abukasis said. “I think that the players put in a game at the highest of levels and if we would have been a bit smarter on the attack we could have scored a goal or two. However, I would take this result had it been an option even before the game.”
Hapoel Beersheba slipped by Panevėžys 1-0 as well in Conference League qualifying as Shai Elias scored from the top of the box in the first half to take the win.
The Southern Reds will now get ready for the return leg in Lithuania. Should Elyaniv Barda’s squad advance to the third round, it will play the winner of the Shkupi 1927 and Levski Sofia matchup.
“We had something that we were missing last game,” Barda said. “There were players that gave it their all right from the get-go and that’s encouraging. The 1-0 result is ok and it’s only the first half of the game. We still have what to work on and we have to go to Lithuania ready to go.”
In Toto Cup action, Hapoel Jerusalem and Hapoel Tel Aviv played to a 1-1 draw as Hisham Layous and Idan Dahan traded goals as the teams split the points at Teddy Stadium in the capital.
“All in all, this was a good game for us,” Jerusalem coach Ziv Arie said. “Right now I want everyone to get playing time and we have a very good squad. There are things that we need to fix up and improve on and we will continue on and hope that we will be ready when the league begins. We want to develop players, play happy soccer and win as many games as we can.”
“I’m not disappointed with the result as it’s still very early on in the season,” Tel Aviv coach Michael Valkanis said. “I’m content with about 75% of our game and we have another month and a lot of work to do in order to get ready for the season. We have to really be careful with how many minutes the players will be on the pitch in order to avoid injuries.”
In the Petah Tikva derby, Maccabi and Hapoel played to a dry goalless draw as both teams earned promotion from the Leumit League and will play in the top division this season.
“We saw some good things and bad things and we have to work on those to get them better ahead of the league,” Maccabi Petach Tikva coach Benny Lam said. “We always want to win and we played well for the most part until about the 70th minute, and then we were under pressure which we have to work on.”
“We missed an opportunity to win this game,” Hapoel coach Ofer Tesselpepe. “We were without some players in this game but we are a big team with great fans and we have to understand that we are now playing in the top league.”Also, Bnei Sakhnin slipped by Hapoel Haifa 1-0 on Dor Hugi’s 34th-minute goal to take the three points and the win.