A pair of first-leg draws for Israeli teams

Maccabi Haifa holds Ventspils to nil-nil in Latvia as Hapoel Tel Aviv earns 1-1 result at Pandurii.

ARIK BENADO 370 (photo credit: Uzi Gal)
(photo credit: Uzi Gal)
Hapoel Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa will be confident of advancing to the playoff round of the Europa League next week after recording draws on the road in the first leg of the third qualifying round on Thursday.
Hapoel found itself a goal down to Pandurii Târgu Jiu with the match less than four minutes old, but left Romania with a precious 1-1 draw thanks to Sasha’s equalizer (29).
Haifa registered the biggest win ever for an Israeli team in European competition last week, crushing Xazar Lankaran 8-0 in Azerbaijan. However, it failed to find the back of the net even once at FK Ventspils of Latvia on Thursday, drawing 0-0.
Still, coach Arik Benado was convinced that the Greens will secure their progress next week.
“We really wanted to win and score a goal, but the Latvian defense gave us a tough time,” said Benado. “They closed us down throughout the match.
We were dominant and superior, but we couldn’t translate our advantage to goals.
Nevertheless, I believe that we will get the job done in front of our fans.”
After last week’s bombardment, Haifa struggled to create scoring opportunities on Thursday, with Alon Turgeman reaching its first real chance of the match in the 34th minute, sending a weak effort at goal from close range.
The Greens came centimeters away from the opener in the final minute of the first half, with Rayo’s shot from long range skimming the crossbar.
Latvian goalkeeper Maksims Uvarenko had to be alert to save Shimon Abuhazira’s powerful attempt from the center of the box 10 minutes into the second half, but he had little else to do in the remainder of the match, and despite failing to score, Haifa will be optimistic of securing its progress at home.
Hapoel couldn’t have really gotten off to a worse start in Romania.
After conceding a soft goal in last week’s 2-2 draw with PFC Beroe, goalkeeper Danny Amos entered Thursday’s encounter with plenty to prove.
However, Amos gifted Pandurii the opener after less than four minutes, bundling Dan Nistor’s seemingly harmless effort into the back of the net.
Tel Aviv was initially shellshocked but it slowly seized control of the field and equalized in the 29th minute.
Brazilian midfielder Sasha sent a splendid free kick into the top right corner, giving Hapoel the away goal it so desperately desired.
Hapoel dropped a gear after the break, but Amos ensured the deadlock would not be broken.
Four minutes after the interval, Amos had to be at his best to deny Erico and three minutes later he stopped Deivydas Matulevicius’s bullet with a superb instinctive save.
While Haifa and Tel Aviv would be extremely disappointed should they fail to reach the group stage, not to mention the playoff round, Hapoel Ramat Gan is mainly interested in enjoying its Europa League experience.
Despite being relegated to the National League last season, Ramat Gan booked its place in continental competition by surprisingly winning the State Cup.
Ramat Gan also began its European adventure on Thursday night at GD Estoril-Praia of Portugal, in a match which was goalless at halftime and ended after press time.
Meanwhile, the Egyptian media reported on Thursday that Mohamed Salah and FC Basel teammate and countryman Mohamed Elneny have asked not to travel to Israel for Tuesday’s Champions League third qualifying round second leg against Maccabi Tel Aviv.