Soccer: Mac Haifa blasts Glentoran out of the water

Six unanswered goals secure local title-holders' chances in Champions League qualification.

MACCABI HAIFA 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
(photo credit: AP)
Maccabi Haifa effectively clinched its place in the Champions League third qualifying round on Wednesday, thrashing Northern Ireland champion Glentoran 6-0 at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium. The handsome victory means next week's return leg in Belfast will be no more than a warm-up match ahead of the penultimate round of qualifying to begin the following week. Haifa, which will learn the identity of its opponent in the third qualifying round on Friday, needs to progress past two more ties to advance to the group stage of European soccer's premier competition for the first time since 2003. Glentoran lived up to its billing as a semi-amateur side on Wednesday, and despite keeping Haifa at bay for the first 36 minutes, never had any real chance of avoiding defeat. Haifa's slow start to the match was the only reason the score remained tied for the first third of the encounter, but as soon as the hosts broke the deadlock is was clear more goals would follow. "The first match of the season is never easy and we did well," Haifa coach Elisha Levy said. "I'd rather give my team credit than speak of our opponent. We knew how to claim a clear victory and that says a lot about our squad." Levy was also pleased with the performance of his new foreigners, Vladimir Dvalishvili and Jorge Teixeira. "You could see their quality tonight," Levy said. "We didn't make many changes to our squad and only signed players we really needed." Haifa was poor at the beginning of the match and struggled to create scoring opportunities against a very weak Glentoran team. The hosts finally found the back of the net in the 36th minute when Lior Rafaelov made the most of a melee in the Glentoran box and slotted in the opener. It took Maccabi just seven minutes to score in the second half. Yaniv Katan made a mockery of the visitors' defense and gave 'keeper Elliot Morris no chance with his shot. Six more minutes passed and Georgian forward Vladimir Dvalishvili marked his debut with a goal. Mohammed Ghadir ran Glentoran's defense ragged and crossed the ball perfectly for Dvalishvili, who had no trouble scoring with a free header. For the next 20 minutes it seemed as though Haifa would settle for the three-goal margin. However, the visitors struggled more and more with the humid and hot weather as the match progressed and Maccabi punished them in the final 10 minutes. Nine minutes from time, Dvalishvili showed he may be a real steal with an exquisite finish in front of goal and just two minutes later substitute Shlomi Arbeitman scored with an unstoppable header. In the 89th minute, Ghadir capped his excellent performance with a goal and ensured next week's trip to Belfast will be no more than a holiday. On Thursday, Bnei Yehuda will host Dinaburg FC of Latvia at Bloomfield Stadium in the Europa League's second qualifying round. Bnei Yehuda defeated Simurq of Azerbaijan 4-0 on aggregate in the third qualifying round and will be looking to open a comfortable margin against Dinaburg ahead of next week's return leg in Latvia. Dinaburg beat Nomme Kalju of Estonia 2-1 on aggregate in the third qualifying round. "We are expecting a tough match and I'm sure they won't make life easy for us," Bnei Yehuda coach Guy Luzon said. "Dinaburg has already started to play in its local league and that gives it an advantage. But we also have our advantages and we will try and make the most of them."