Greens grab 2-0 first-leg playoffs advantage over Astra

“The tie isn’t over yet. Astra is a good team but so are we.”

Haifa's Yaniv Katan (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Haifa's Yaniv Katan
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Haifa will take a promising lead into next week’s Europa League playoffs second leg at Astra of Romania after claiming a 2-0 victory at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium on Thursday night.
Haifa was extremely wary of Astra, which currently leads the Romanian league with four wins from four matches. However, the Greens will be confident of joining Maccabi Tel Aviv in the group stage next Thursday after recording their fifth straight clean sheet in continental competition.
Haifa has impressively yet to concede a goal in Europe, crushing Xazar Lankaran 10-0 on aggregate in the second qualifying round and beating FK Ventspils 3-0 in the third round before Thursday’s 2-0 win.
“We could have registered an even bigger win but 2-0 is a good result as well,” said Haifa coach Arik Benado.
“The tie isn’t over yet. Astra is a good team but so are we.”
Haifa’s first real opportunity arrived in the 25th minute, with Hen Ezra cutting in from the left flank in trademark style and forcing ‘keeper Silviu Lung into making an excellent save.
Haifa continued to gather momentum and scored a deserved opener five minutes later.
Impressive Spanish midfielder Rayo sent an accurate effort into the top left corner with a free kick from 20 meters out, with Lung only managing to stroke the ball on its way into the back of the net.
Haifa should have really doubled its lead by halftime after Astra’s Junior Morais gifted the hosts a penalty when he blocked Shimon Abuhazira’s header with his hand.
No one was expecting Rayo to miss the spot kick, but Lung had little trouble collecting his weak penalty and kept Astra within striking distance at the break.
Astra seized the initiative at the start of the second half, but Haifa’s second goal would arrive against the run of play in the 61st minute courtesy of the otherwise quiet Alon Turgeman.
Haifa would have won by a far greater margin had its strikers been sharper in front of goal, with Turgeman sending a weak header straight at the goalkeeper from point-blank range in the 65th minute, before Abuhazira recklessly squandered two opportunities, twice failing to even find the target when he only had the ’keeper to beat.
Haifa at least managed to blank its opponent once more and will be optimistic of securing its progress next Thursday despite its wastefulness in front of goal.