Europa League: Hap Tel Aviv loses but still qualifies
Europa League Hap Tel A
By ALLON SINAI
The only thing Hapoel Tel Aviv will want to remember from Wednesday night's 2-0 defeat to Celtic is the final whistle.
Hapoel failed to display the dazzling level of play which saw it win three of its first four Europa League Group C matches, but nevertheless secured its place in the round of 32 thanks to Hamburg's 2-0 home victory over Rapid Vienna.
Goals by Giorgios Samaras (22) and Barry Robson (68) either side of halftime gave Celtic a deserved victory, but it proved to be of little importance due to the result in Germany.
In two week's time, Hapoel will host Hamburg in a showdown for first position in the group, with the Germans at the top of the standings with 10 points, one more than Tel Aviv.
Celtic laid siege on Hapoel's goal from the start of Wednesday's match, but it took the hosts 20 minutes to register their first real chance of the night.
Scott McDonald tested Vincent Enyeama, but Hapoel's Nigerian 'keeper was more than up to the task.
Two minutes later, Tel Aviv created what proved to be its only scoring opportunity of the first half. Gili Vermut squared the ball for Itai Shechter, only for the latter to send a weak effort above the goal.
Celtic made the breakthrough less than 60 seconds later.
Aiden McGeady terrorized Danny Bondarv on the right flank before sending an accurate cross for Greek striker Samaras, who easily headed in the opener.
Celtic continued to dominate the remainder of the first half and had a couple of superb chances to double its lead.
In the 30th minute, McGeady had time and space in the Tel Aviv box, but Enyeama was well placed to clear his effort. Five minutes later the Hapoel 'keeper rashly raced out of goal, but fortunately for the visitors Samaras was denied by the post and Robson's subsequent shot was blocked by some desperate Hapoel defending.
Celtic remained in control at the start of the second half, but in Germany Hamburg was making sure Hapoel would progress nevertheless.
After a goalless first half, Hamburg scored twice in the first eight minutes of the second half through Marcell Jansen (47) and Marcus Berg (53).
The hosts may not have known what was going on in Hamburg, but the happenings in Germany seemed to take the wind out of out of Celtic's sails and Hapoel finally began to find its footing.
Some Shechter magic almost gave Hapoel the equalizer in the 58th minute, with the forward whizzing into the box and having his dangerous shot cleared by Lukasz Zaluska's save.
Ten minutes later, Celtic clinched the win. Enyeama was late to react to Robson's accurate left-footed free kick from 20 meters out and Celtic cruised to a sour victory it will quickly want to forget.
However, the final whistle was music to Hapoel ears, with Eli Gutman's men now having a round of 32 tie in February to look forward to.
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