Reds takes care of business in Austria, now have breathing room in 2nd leg.
By ALLON SINAI
Hapoel Tel Aviv is on the verge of qualifying for the Champions League group stage for the first time in club history after claiming a 3-2 victory at Red Bull Salzburg’s Red Bull Arena in the first leg of the playoffs on Wednesday night.Hapoel hosts the second leg at Bloomfield Stadium next Tuesday and, with three away goals, knows that even a 1-0 or 2-1 defeat at home will send it through to European soccer’s most prestigious stage.Tel Aviv got off to a perfect start on Wednesday, with Itai Shechter being brought down in the box just 48 seconds in, and goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama converted the penalty a minute later.Salzburg equalized in the 28th minute through Nikola Pokrivac, but Hapoel was never in any danger of losing and it led at the break after Ben Sahar’s 44th minute strike.Shechter piled the misery on the Austrians seven minutes into the second half and even though Roman Wallner got a goal back for Salzburg, Tel Aviv will never forgive itself if it doesn’t complete an aggregate victory in Jaffa next week.Seconds after the opening whistle, Shechter latched on to a long ball, and the striker was brought down in the box by Salzburg’s Franz Schiemer.Enyeama stepped up to take the spot kick and his perfectly executed penalty gave Tel Aviv the ideal start.AdvertisementDespite the early lead, the visitors were still visibly nervous at the beginning of the match and in the 10th minute the hosts almost capitalized.Eran Zehavi turned the ball over on the touchline, but Douglas da Silva came to his rescue, blocking Christoph Leitgeb’s shot from the edge of the area.The Austrians had the better of the possession, but they created virtually nothing until the 28th minute.A poor clearance by Yossi Shivhon found Pokrivac and the Croatian’s unstoppable shot slammed into the back of the net off the post.Tel Aviv didn’t drop its head after conceding the equalizer and it slowly found its rhythm. Gutman’s team was stringing together passes in typical fashion and it was rewarded for its fluent play a minute from the break.After a great break forward, Dedi Ben-Dayan sent in a great cross and Sahar clinically slotted his header beyond Gerhard Tremmel.Trailing by a goal at home meant that Salzburg was forced to commit more players forward at the start of the second half and Hapoel needed just seven minutes to make the hosts pay.Avihai Yadin superbly threaded the ball through to Shechter and the 23-yearold carefully took his time and gave Tremmel no chance with his shot.Salzburg knew that a 3-1 deficit would leave it with no chance in the return leg at Bloomfield, and it sent everyone forward in search of goals.In the 67th minute, it got what it was looking for.Omri Kende foolishly fouled Jakob Jantscher in the box and Wallner coolly converted the penalty to cut the deficit.Even though Salzburg should have been more desperate to score a goal, it was Tel Aviv that had the better chances in the match’s late stages.In the 81st minute, Shechter turned well in the box, but Tremmel somehow got his foot to his shot and Salzburg was spared.Three minutes from time, Gili Vermut found Zehavi after an excellent surge forward, only for the latter to fire straight at the ’keeper.However, those missed opportunities should be of no significance with Hapoel now within touching distance of the group stage thanks to an outstanding road victory.
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