Mac TA, Beitar well placed after first legs

Yellow-and-blue draws in Almaty thanks to Benayoun strike, Beitar beats Omonia, while Haifa knots with Kalju.

Maccabi Tel Aviv midfielder Yossi Benayoun. (photo credit: UDI ZITIAT)
Maccabi Tel Aviv midfielder Yossi Benayoun.
(photo credit: UDI ZITIAT)
A stoppage-time equalizer by Yossi Benayoun earned Maccabi Tel Aviv a 1-1 draw at Kairat Almaty in Kazakhstan on Thursday and put the yellow-and-blue in the driving seat ahead of next week’s Europa League second qualifying round second leg.
Beitar Jerusalem will also be confident of progressing to the third qualifying round, registering a 1-0 victory over Omonia Nicosia of Cyprus in the first leg at Teddy Stadium courtesy of Shimon Abuhazira’s 71st-minute strike. Maccabi Haifa will not be as happy with its result on Thursday, being held to a disappointing 1-1 home draw in Netanya by Nomme Kalju of Estonia.
The second legs will all be played next Thursday, with the teams to already discover their potential opponents in the third qualifying round on Friday.
Benayoun came on as a substitute in the 73rd minute and gave Maccabi a draw it deserved with a characteristic goal in the 91st minute, beating one defender in the box before finding the bottom left corner with an accurate finish.
“Every goal is important and it’s always fun to score, but the result is what is crucial,” Benayoun told the club’s website.
“It was a difficult game against a quality side. It could have ended with a different result, but thankfully we scored in the last minute and it gives us a good starting point going into next week.”
Nicosia hit the woodwork twice before Abuhazira scored the only goal of the match from close range following a swift break forward by Beitar.
“We entered this match with a few problems but the guys did great,” said Beitar coach Ran Ben-Shimon. “We will face a real battle in Cyprus as they will have to wrestle our lead away from us.”
Abuhazira scored his first goal since February 2015, sitting out all of last season due to heart problems and a dispute with previous club Maccabi Haifa.
“I waited for this moment for a long time,” he said. “I sat at home for a whole year but I never lost hope. This goal released a lot of pressure and emotions.”
Haifa controlled the first leg, but conceded a goal in the first minute of the second half, with Janar Toomet making the most of some lax defending. Haifa thought it had equalized through Nikita Rukavytsya in the 58th minute, but his header was wrongly disallowed for offside. Firas Mugrabi’s effort eight minutes later was then denied by the crossbar, but Haifa finally leveled the score in the 70th minute when Gili Vermouth picked up the ball on the edge of the box and fired an unstoppable shot into the bottom left corner.
“I’m disappointed,” said Haifa coach Roni Levy. “Conceding a goal at home makes life in the second leg a lot tougher.
This hurts our chances but we still hope to advance next week.”
In Kazakhstan, Maccabi wasn’t intent on just sitting back and midfielder Nosa Igiebor had two excellent opportunities to net an early breakthrough. His 18th-minute header went straight at the ‘keeper, while his header three minutes later was making its way into the bottom left corner before goalkeeper Vladimir Plotnikov somehow kept it out.
The hosts struck in the 29th minute, with former Arsenal midfielder Andrey Arshavin scoring with a clinical finish after Gerard Gohou did all the hard work in the build up.
Maccabi continued to be the more dangerous team in the second half, with Almaty struggling to create scoring opportunities despite already being in mid-season form, sitting in second place in its local league standings after 20 matches.
The yellow-and-blue finally equalized in stoppage time, with Benayoun turning in the box and scoring the kind of goal he became known for in his prime.
Almaty ended the match with 10 men after Bauyrzhan Islamkhan was sent off for shoving Eitan Tibi.
“I have to give credit to the boys because we had a really hard trip,” said Maccabi coach Shota Arveladze, with the team only arriving in Almaty following a 10-hour journey. “This is not a bad result, but nothing is done yet.”