Hapoel Tel Aviv tripped up by Aktobe

Gutman, Shechter flustered in 1-0 loss in first leg; return leg next week in TA.

hapoel tel aviv 311 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
hapoel tel aviv 311
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Hapoel Tel Aviv’s Champions League dream hangs in the balance after it suffered a 1-0 defeat to FK Aktobe in Kazakhstan on Wednesday night in the first leg of the third qualifying round.
After thrashing FK Zeljeznicar 6-0 on aggregate in the second qualifying round, Tel Aviv was hoping for an equally easy passage against Aktobe. However, that wasn’t the case on Wednesday and the Reds will have to be at their best next week to overturn the first leg deficit.
Hapoel will still be the favorite to advance to the playoff round when it hosts the return leg at Bloomfield Stadium next Tuesday, but coach Eli Gutman was understandably upset with Wednesday’s result.
“We are disappointed with the score, especially after our excellent second half in which we created plenty of opportunities,” said Gutman, who is hoping to guide Hapoel to the group stage of the Champions League for the first time in club history.
“This match is just the first half of the tie and we will try and get the job done in front of our fans at Bloomfield.
At home we can play without pressure and hopefully advance.”
Gili Vermut and Itai Shechter echoed their coach’s sentiment.
“I believe that at Bloomfield we will dictate the pace. We knew we were facing a good team, but nothing is over yet and we will not drop our heads,” Vermut said.
“I had three chances, but I failed to score,” Shechter added. “At Bloomfield it will be an entirely different story. The crowd will give us a push and we will play our regular game.”
Aktobe showed its intent right from the start, with Hapoel goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama being called into action as early as the second minute, saving Titi Essomba’s effort.
The hosts continued to threaten Tel Aviv’s goal throughout the first half, but Hapoel’s Nigerian ’keeper kept Aktobe at bay.
Enyeama denied Ivan Peric in the 27th minute and was well placed to save Evgeni Averchenko’s attempt four minutes later.
The Belarusians remained in control at the start of the second half and Gutman decided to make a change, replacing Maharan Lala with Ben Sahar in the 57th minute, allowing the 20- year-old to make his debut with the club.
Six minutes later, Sahar made his first contribution, setting up Itai Shechter, but the striker could do no better than send his shot straight at Aktobe ’keeper Andrei Sidelnikov.
An excellent save by Sidelnikov denied Shechter two minutes later, and Aktobe would make the breakthrough after another two minutes.
Douglas da Silva handled the ball in the box and Samat Smakov converted the penalty to give the hosts the lead against the run of play.
Gutman immediately substituted Romain Rocchi with Yossi Shivhon, but Tel Aviv would not come close to equalizing until the final 10 minutes.
Eran Zehavi and Sahar had their opportunities, but Aktobe held on and will have a real chance of advancing when it visits Bloomfield next week.