Greens defeated on penalties by Romanian minnows FCGloria Bistrata in the second round of the Intertoto Cup.
By JEREMY LAST
Maccabi Haifa's European campaign ended in disastrous fashion on Saturday evening when the greens were defeated on penalties by Romanian minnows FC Gloria Bistrata in the second round of the Intertoto Cup.
After losing 2-0 in the first leg at Kiryat Eliezer last weekend, Haifa had needed to score three goals in Gloria on Saturday to guarantee progression to the next round and a matchup with Spanish side Atletico Madrid.
The signs looked good for the Israeli side when Shay Maimon put the visiting Haifa team ahead after only five minutes.
Goalkeeper Nir Davidovitch, replacing the youngster Tom Almadon, gave the greens a further boost when he saved a penalty on 35 minutes.
And Tomer Hemed made it 2-0 to Maccabi on 63 minutes, further raising hopes of a comeback against the team which finished in sixth place in the Romanian league last season, .
But Haifa was unable to grab the crucial third goal and the game went into extra time. Neither side scored in the extra half hour of play and so the tie was decided by a penalty shoot out which Bistrata won 3-2.
The result will be a massive blow to Haifa coach Roni Levy, even though he played a team missing many of his top players. Maccabi, the winner of four of the last six Israeli Premier League titles, had been a strong performer in Europe in recent years. Last season Haifa reached the last sixteen of the UEFA Cup, losing out only to eventual finalist Espanyol.
The team, however, had a torrid 2006/07 season, finishing in fifth place and must now begin to rebuild.
Speaking after the game Levy said he was still "proud of the boys."
"They proved again that in European games they have a strong character and its not easy to break them even when it seems all is lost," Levy said.
"They brought the game to penalties and unfortunately we were unsuccessful to get the final hurdle."
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