A 90th minute strike from Yossi Benayoun earned Maccabi Tel Aviv a valuable 1-1 draw against Kairat Almaty in the first leg of their Europa Leagu qualifying round tie.
Former Arsenal midfielder Andrey Arshavin gave the hosts a 29th minute lead, but just as it looked It looked as if Maccabi would be going back to Israel needing to win to go through, Benayoun’s late strike – his second goal in consecutive Europa League matches – scored what could prove to be a priceless goal.
Speaking after the match, he said: “Every goal is important and it’s always fun to score, but the result is what is crucial. It was a difficult game against a quality side. It could have ended with a different result, but thankfully we scored in the last minute and it gives us a good starting point going into next week.
“Anytime you score an away goal it’s good, but we also saw them have plenty of chances and if we would have given up another goal we would have paid the price. With our fans at home and a good feeling going into the game, we have to advance to the next round.”
The second time both he and Arshavin have score in the same match, he said: “I also played with Arshavin at Arsenal, but everyone remembers the classic 4-4 draw in which I scored the equalising goal. I would have been happier had he not scored, but all things being said we had a good result here. We’ll have to work hard to get by them and into the third round.”
Elsewhere in the competition, Maccabi Haifa have it all to do if they’re to progress to the next round. Playing their first game in the tournament, the Israelis were held to a 1-1 draw at home by Estonian side Nomme Kalju. Janar Toomet gave the visitors a 47th minute lead, though Gil Vermouth’s equaliser 20 minutes from time ensured they have something to take to Estonia for the second leg.
Beitar Jerusalem will travel to Cyprus with a 1-0 advantage, after Shomin Abuhazira’s 71st minute strike gave them a slender victory over Omonia.
All three second legs take place on Thursday.
Friday saw the draw made for the third qualifying round, with games set to be played on 28 July and 4 August.
Maccabi Tel Aviv will face Romanian side Pandurii Targu Jiu, Maccabi Haifa will meet either Moldovans Zimbru Chisinau or Turkish side Osmanlıspor, while Beitar Jerusalem will take on either Slovakians Slovan Bratislava or Latvian’s Jelgava. The three Israeli sides would all be away in the first leg.
Israeli champions Maccabi Beer Sheva face a tough task if they’re to make it through to the main draw of the Champions League, having been drawn against Olympiacos in the third round qualifying draw. They do though first have to overcome FC Sheriff Tiraspol, who they beat 3-2 in the first leg of their second qualifying round tie on Tuesday, with the second leg taking place in Moldova on Tuesday.