Maccabi Haifa punched its ticket to the third round of UEFA Champions League qualifying late Wednesday night after defeating visiting Sheriff Tiraspol 4-1 (4-2 on aggregate) in dramatic fashion.
The Greens went down 1-0 early to the Moldovan side but were able to dig their way out of a two-goal hole on strikes by Tjaron Chery and Mahmoud Jaber late in regulation time, sending the game to overtime.
However, Sheriff lost two players to red cards just ahead of the extra session, which gave Messay Dego a massive advantage as Haifa scored twice more via Dean David and Erik Shuranov to take the win.
Next up for Haifa will be Slovan Bratislava as the Israeli squad will look to move on to the Playoff Round and make its way back to the groups stages of Europe’s most prestigious league for the second season in a row.
Should it not make it to the Champions League, Haifa is still guaranteed of playing in the group stages of either the Europa League, if it loses in the playoff round, or the Conference League should it not get past Bratislava in the upcoming clash.
On Wednesday at Sammy Ofer Stadium, both sides began the game cautiously but it was the visitors who struck first when Lior Refaelov’s foul on Kostas Apostolakis sent Amine Talal to the penalty spot, where he sent the Greens ’keeper Itamar Nitzan in the wrong direction and slotted the ball home for a 1-0 lead in the 20th minute.
However, Chery’s left-footed stunner from outside of the box sent the sides headed into the break all knotted up at 1-1.
Each squad traded chances to begin the second half, but it was Jaber with an 85th-minute screamer that gave Dego’s squad a 2-1 lead, but most importantly a 2-2 tie on aggregate.
With Sheriff struggling, it then lost two players on red cards to Henrique Luvannor and Amine Talal, leaving the visitors with just nine players as the contest headed to a 30-minute overtime period.
With Haifa pressing for a winner, Suf Podgoreanu sent David a gorgeous pass in the box as he flipped the ball over a helpless Sheriff ’keeper while Shuranov also found the back of the goal to polish off the win.
“I knew that it would be a tough game,” Dego said following the game. ”But I said at the half that we just had to keep moving the ball we would be fine and that’s what happened. We are pretty tired right now, but we will relax a bit and come back ready to go in the next game. It was a night of many emotions and I have never experienced anything like this in my life.”
Dean David reflected on the win
“It’s always fun to score and it doesn’t matter when. We all work hard in practice and I am happy that my goal helped out the team," said David. "I feel good and I am in good shape so I hope that my play will continue.”
In Toto Cup play, meanwhile, Hapoel Jerusalem crushed Hapoel Petah Tikva 5-1 as five different goal scorers handed the Reds the win.
After opening up the game with a goalless half hour, Matan Hozez found the back of the hosts' net from 25 meters out while Don Cedric put home a gorgeous ball by Ofek Nadir just ahead of the break to grab a 2-0 advantage.
Ofek Osher cut the Jerusalem lead to 2-1 just a minute into the second half, but before Petah Tikva could finish celebrating Idan Dahan helped the visitors regain the two-goal lead and made it 3-1.
Awake Ashta added another strike in the 70th minute and Itay Zada scored as well 13 minutes later to wrap up the blowout victory.
“This is just an exhibition game and I am not going to look at the result,” Jerusalem coach Avi Arie said as he tried to downplay the big victory. “We are a good team but we are missing a player that will give us some depth. Whatever we did here won’t have any effect on our games in the league.”
“It’s never pleasant to lose, but we know exactly where we are,” Petah Tikva coach Ofer Tesselpepe explained. “We have a situation here that we need to know how to deal with. It won’t be easy but we will know how to handle it. There is no question that we have to take a good look at this game as the goals we gave up were very easy and these were not up to this level.”
Elsewhere, Ashdod SC hosted Maccabi Petah Tikva to a 1-1 draw at port city in Toto Cup play.
Ilay Tamam gave Ashdod an early lead as he took advantage of a Gil Cohen through-ball, but a late penalty by Mohamed Hindy gave the visitors a split of the points.
“I’m coming out of this game very optimistic,” Petah Tikva coach Benny Lam said. “Unlike the derby we played a few days ago, we were able to hold onto the ball in the first half and we were able to create a number of good chances. In the second half, some of our younger players really impressed. The Toto Cup is a real help to get ready for the season and our goal is to use these games to our advantage to come into the campaign as prepared as possible.”
“I feel that we missed an opportunity,” Ashdod coach Eli Levy said after his debut on the sidelines. “I believe that we played better than a draw. but I am proud of the guys and they put in a great effort. I wanted to see a team that plays tactically and they did a good job of that.”
Also, Hapoel Hadera slipped by Hapoel Haifa 2-1 to take the win in Toto Cup play.
After a goalless first half, Samy Bourard opened the scoring early on in the second half to give Hadera a 1-0 lead while Ahmad Darusha added an insurance marker to double the score in the 77th minute. Mohammed Kamara pulled back a goal deep into stoppage time, but it was too little, too late for the Carmel Reds.
“We never like to lose and we are always trying to win,” Haifa coach Roni Levy said. “There is disappointment, but I also feel that this is still a time where we are preparing for the new season. This isn’t the ideal starting lineup and many players are getting minutes in order to get ready for the upcoming campaign.”
“I think in our last game we played better and this one really wasn’t up to the level of league play,” Hadera coach Niso Avitan began. “Both teams were missing many players and it’s tough to get ready for the new season here in Israel with the tough weather. Players were just exhausted and while the gameplay wasn’t great the result was encouraging.”
Finally, Bnei Reina and Maccabi Netanya played to a goalless draw to split the points up in the Galilee.
“It was important to win this game because we were at home so I have mixed feelings about the game as we played well during some starches. We weren’t as sharp as we needed to be but that will come,” Netanya coach Ron Kozuk said.
“We played against a good team that is very balanced and for the most part continued from last season. This was our first game and I saw many good things both on offense and defense after having brought in many new players,” noted Bnei Reineh bench boss Sharon Mimer.