Mac Haifa opens with dominant victory

Greens smother Minsk; Mac TA plays well on road but falls in first leg to Olympiacos.

Maccabi Tel Aviv 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Maccabi Tel Aviv 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Thursday night went largely according to the script for Israel’s remaining Europa League contenders in the first leg of the third qualifying round, as Maccabi Haifa took care of business against Dinamo Minsk while Maccabi Tel Aviv acquitted itself well in a road defeat at the hands of Olympiacos.
Haifa’s 1-0 victory was as one-sided as a one-goal win could be, as the Kiryat Eliezer crowd was treated to speedy, nononsense defense and superior midfield play from their home Greens, but an inability to finish as well.
Tel Aviv, on the other hand, was the weaker side in Greece, but performed admirably in a 2-1 loss.
Maccabi Haifa 1, Dinamo Minsk 0
A first-half goal by striker Vladimir Dvalishvili was all Haifa needed to secure victory against the Belarusians in a game that was far less competitive than the score would indicate.
“We had many more opportunities to score,” Haifa coach Elisha Levy said. “It was very important not to let Minsk score, but we really should have had more than one goal tonight.”
Indeed, Minsk goalkeeper Andrei Gorbunov had to sweat a great deal more than his counterpart Amir Edri, as Haifa’s stronger technical skill and ball-handling translated into countless more chances for the host.
Dvalishvili found himself with the ball on his foot in point-blank range a number of times in the first half, but the Georgian forward was never able to make the right decision.
Ironically, given all of Dvalishvili’s chances stemming from well-constructed midfield play, his breakthrough came on a fluke deflection in the 30th minute. Ali Osman’s pass from the right side glanced off the leg of a Minsk defender, popped up high in the air, and landed in the middle of the box – a ball gift-wrapped for a Dvalishvili header that flew against the grain of the Minsk defense, and one that Gorbunov was powerless to stop.
Minsk’s best chance of the first half came when midfielder Anton Putilo forced Edri into a diving save in the 38th.
Dvalishvili’s opportunistic performance continued early in the second half, as he evaded a Minsk defender with a deft side-step, but his strike sailed wide of the goal.
While the hosts’ chances continued to go unconverted, the Greens’ speed on defense ensured that any semblance of a Minsk attack would be quickly squashed.
The visitors threatened in the 86th minute when Edri was caught out of position, forcing Canuto to head a dangerous ball out of bounds with barely enough room to spare. From then on, Maccabi coasted to victory.
Though Levy was disappointed in his side’s inability to finish, Maccabi imposed its will to the extent that next week’s visit to Minsk should end with the Greens’ arms raised in anticipation of the fourth qualifying round.
Olympiacos 2, Maccabi Tel Aviv 1
The yellow-and-blue held its own against a superior Greek squad in the first half, and caught a break in the 16th minute when Giorgos Galitsios handled the ball in the penalty area as Roberto Colautti threatened to score.
Haris Medunjanin coolly converted the penalty a minute later, sending the ball past a diving Antonis Nikopolidis to give Maccabi a 1-0 lead.
Maccabi collapsed its defense in the second half, ensuring the Greeks would win the possession battle.
The plan backfired in the 67th minute when Oympiacos substitute Jaouad Zairi took a pass in the air and in one motion twirled and fired a strike into the back of the net.
The hosts seemed calmed by Zairi’s shot, and took the lead six minutes later when Dennis Rommedahl took a centering pass and knocked it past a diving Strauber.
Maccabi never seriously threatened Nikopolidis from that point despite breaking out of its defensive shell, and will need a victory at Bloomfield Stadium next week to advance.