Mac Haifa blows great opportunity, falls 2-1

Greens can still punch their own ticket to round-of-32 with win over Schalke in two weeks.

MACCABI HAIFA captain Yaniv Katan 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS)
MACCABI HAIFA captain Yaniv Katan 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Maccabi Haifa still has its Europa League fate in its hands, but for a second straight match it failed to record a win which would have clinched its place in the round-of-32, losing 2-1 to AEK Larnaca in Nicosia on Thursday night.
With Schalke 04 beating Steaua Bucharest 2-1 in Germany on Thursday, Haifa would have secured its progress to the knockout rounds with a game to spare had it picked up all three points in Cyprus.
However, the Greens were out of sorts throughout Thursday’s encounter, and their second straight defeat in the competition after also losing 4-2 to Bucharest, leaves them with work to do when they host Schalke in their final group game in two weeks time.
A win for either Larnaca or Bucharest when the two teams meet in their final match will mean Haifa must defeat the strong Germans to guarantee its progress.
A draw between the Romanians and the Cypriots in Bucharest and the Israeli champion will advance even with a defeat to Schalke.
Haifa had nothing to offer on the offensive end for most of Thursday’s encounter and it gifted Larnaca the victory with two terrible defensive mistakes.
In the 14th minute, Gonzalo Garcia picked off Itzik Cohen’s irresponsible pass to slot in the opener and six minutes after the break Gorka Pintado doubled the lead after ‘keeper Bojan Saranov failed to close the near post.
Defender Jurica Buljat got Haifa back into the game in the 75th minute with an excellent finish any striker would have been proud of, but the Greens never really came close to equalizing and have left themselves needing a win against Schalke on December 14.
Haifa will not have long to mull over Thursday’s setback, with the Greens to visit Hapoel Tel Aviv in a tantalizing Premier League showdown on Monday.
Hapoel had already lost any hope of advancing to the Europa League round of 32 after picking up just a single point in its first four matches, but it at least saved some pride and continued the momentum from Sunday’s win over Maccabi in the Tel Aviv derby by beating Rapid Bucharest 3-1 in Romania on Wednesday.
Nosa Igiebor made the most of the Romanians lax defending to give Hapoel the lead in the 12th minute before Toto Tamuz (39) doubled Tel Aviv’s advantage from the penalty spot after Omer Damari was pulled down in the box.
Ciprian Deac got a goal back for the hosts from the spot four minuet later after a mystifying refereeing decision, but Tel Aviv still had a two-goal cushion at the break after Damari squared the ball for Salim Toama for an easy finish on the stroke of halftime.
Apoula Edel ensured the visitors avoided a nervy finish to the match when he saved Deac’s penalty in the 68th minute, but the victory only accentuated Hapoel’s failure at picking up just a single point from its previous four encounters.
“We know we missed a great opportunity to advance from this group, but we are trying to focus on the positives,” midfielder Shay Abutbul said.
“We have come through the derby and through the Europa League match and now we are focusing on Haifa. There is pressure before every match, but against Haifa it is an entirely different pressure.”
Also Thursday, Maccabi Tel Aviv dropped to a 3-2 defeat to Besiktas JK in Group E action at Bloomfield Stadium.
Ricardo Quaresma scored the winner deep into stoppage time after Maccabi fought back from two-goals down.
The Portuguese forward also put his side in front on the verge of halftime, with Ibrahim Toraman doubling the lead two minutes into the second half.
Goals from Shiran Yeini and Moshe Logasi looked to have earned Maccabi a deserved point, but Quaresma's goal in the 92nd minute ensured Tel Aviv will end Group E in last place after suffering a third straight continental defeat.