Hap TA makes its way to Europa League

Gutman's men complete 3-2 aggregate victory over FK Teplice; brave Bnei Yehuda knocked out.

Hapoel TA Ben dayan 2 248.88 (photo credit: )
Hapoel TA Ben dayan 2 248.88
(photo credit: )
For the third time in four seasons, Hapoel Tel Aviv will be playing European soccer well into the winter, after advancing on Thursday night to the group stage of the Europa League. Hapoel drew 1-1 with FK Teplice in Thursday's playoff return leg at Bloomfield Stadium, completing a 3-2 aggregate victory. Tel Aviv played in the group stage of the UEFA Cup, which has been replaced by the Europa League, in the 2006/07 and 2007/08 seasons. Its progress on Thursday was never under any real doubt, despite the fact that Teplice took a 1-0 lead in the 89th minute. Eli Gutman's team was in control for most of the match and Martin Klein's late goal only raised the pressure for a couple of minutes, with Dedi Ben-Dayan equalizing in the first minute of stoppage time. "The most important thing is that Hapoel Tel Aviv is in the group stage of the Europa League," said Gutman, who will learn the identity of his three opponents in the group stage in Friday's draw. "We received a tough draw in both qualifying rounds, playing teams from Sweden and the Czech Republic, but we completed the mission." Gutman was pleased with his players' performance on Thursday, despite the fact that Teplice dominated the second half. "We began the match well and their goalkeeper was the best player on the pitch in the first half," Gutman said. "As the match progressed we played with less confidence, but I'm proud of my players' effort." Hapoel should have really led at the break. Gili Vermut, who has been the team's best player in recent weeks, tested 'keeper Tomas Grigar in the 17th minute and Michael Zandberg missed a golden opportunity 10 minutes later, sending his close-range shot straight at the goalkeeper. After the interval, Teplice had no option but to send everyone forward in search of goals and the visitors came close to scoring several times. In the 50th minute, Tomas Vondrasek sent his volley wide, with Jakub Mares only being denied by an excellent Vincent Enyeama save 10 minutes later. The visitors finally broke the deadlock one minute from time when Klien sent an unstoppable header into the top left corner of the net. However, it was too little too late for Teplice. Ben-Dayan made sure Hapoel maintained its unbeaten European run two minutes later when he tucked the ball in after a persistent run through the Czech defense. "I'm very happy we managed to progress and continue the club's European tradition," said Ben-Dayan. Meanwhile, Bnei Yehuda was knocked out of the competition despite putting on a brave display at the Phillips Arena against Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven. A first-half penalty by PSV captain Timmy Simons was enough to see off Guy Luzon's men 1-0 on the night, and 2-0 on aggregate. Although Eindhoven had the lion's share of possession, Bnei Yehuda looked dangerous on the break, with Eliran Atar going close on three occasions. However, Bnei Yehuda's impressive European run came to an end, and the Tel Aviv team will now have to concentrate on its Israel Premier League challenge.