Hapoel Tel Aviv’s dream comes true

Israel will have club in Champions League group stage for 2nd straight year.

Hapoel (photo credit: Associated Press)
(photo credit: Associated Press)
It might not have been pretty, but Hapoel Tel Aviv won’t care one bit.
Hapoel advanced to the group stage of the Champions League for the first time in club history on Tuesday night, drawing 1-1 with Red Bull Salzburg at Bloomfield Stadium to progress 4-3 on aggregate thanks to its 3-2 win in Austria last week.
Tel Aviv goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama gifted Salzburg a goal in the 42nd minute of the match and it was a nailbiting night at Bloomfield after that, with the hosts settling for defending, inviting the Austrians to attack.
But Salzburg couldn’t take advantage, and Eran Zehavi, who scored the stoppage time goal that gave Hapoel the Premier League title last season, found the back of the net in extra time once more, securing Tel Aviv’s qualification.
The progress to the group stage is also accompanied with riches that give Hapoel financial breathing room for years to come.
Even should it end the group stage without a point like Maccabi Haifa last season, Tel Aviv is guaranteed 7.1 million euro in addition to the income it will generate from ticket sales for its three home matches and from TV revenue.
A victory in the group stage will be worth a further 800,000 euro, with a draw giving the club some 400,000 euro.
Tel Aviv controlled the possession early on, but struggled to create scoring opportunities. The hosts didn’t register their first real chance of the match until the 20th minute when Ben Sahar sent a header just over Gerhard Tremmel’s goal.
The Austrians finally threatened Enyeama’s goal six minutes later, but Gonzalo Zarate’s effort from outside the box was just wide.
In the 30th minute, Zarate had a much better opportunity when he raced clear of the Hapoel defense only to blast his shot over the crossbar.
Both teams seemed strangely content with the goalless deadlock and it looked as if Salzburg would need a miracle to score.
They got exactly that in the 42nd minute.
Louis Ngwat-Mahop’s cross from the right flank would have been completely harmless in most circumstances, but Hapoel defender Douglas da Silva was standing too close to Enyeama, and when the ’keeper dove to make the save, the ball bounced off of the Brazilian’s chest and into the back of the net.
Salzburg’s goal completely changed the complexity of the match, with the Austrians now needing just one more to claim an aggregate victory. However, they continued to create very little and it was Hapoel which reached the next chance of the night.
After a nice move on the edge of the box, Gili Vermut smashed his left-footed shot against the right post and the ball agonizingly rolled across the goalline and out for a goal kick.
Despite Vermut’s close call, Tel Aviv was beginning to panic as the match progressed and the tension was clear for all to see.
However, Enyeama didn’t even need to make a single significant save in the second half and Hapoel held on for an historic victory.