Maccabi Tel Aviv booked their place in this season’s Europa League after winning a thrilling penalty shoot-out against Hajuk Split on Thursday evening.
Going in to the second leg leading 2-1, Marko Ćosić put the Croatians ahead on the night – and in the tie, with them having the crucial away goal.
However, the Israelis levelled the score on the evening, thanks to Argentine Ezequiel Scarione’s 52nd minute strike to nudge Tel Aviv back ahead, 3-2 on aggregate.
Their lead only lasted seven minutes, as Ćosić claimed his second of the night – and that’s how the score remained for the remainder of the match, taking the game to a penalty shoot-out.
Both scored their first spot-kicks, before both then missed their next two, both then scored their next two, to effectively take the contest into sudden death. Ćosić surprisingly missed his effort, allowing Avraham Rikan to step up and win the tie for The Greens.
Saying he was confident he’d score the decisive kick, Rikan said: “As soon as I saw that the Hajduk player missed I knew that I would score. I put the ball on the spot and I stepped up to take the kick with all of my heart. Some of the players had played 90 minutes a few days ago, it wasn’t easy but we will enjoy it now.”
Happy to play his part in the victory, having started the game on the bench, he said: “The truth is that I live the match from the bench. If you know me a bit even when I don’t play I’m totally into the action and I want to club to win. I got into the thick of things very quickly. I’m happy that I was able to help out and score the decisive penalty. I came into the match late and I couldn’t really have an effect on the outcome during the extra-time period. I’m happy that I scored the penalty. We had four very tough games on the way to this point and tonight was the pinnacle. We’ll celebrate a bit now and then get ready for Ashdod on Monday.
“Anyone that was in this stadium with the amazing atmosphere would understand how wonderful it was to play football in this environment. We didn’t want to get to penalties but I’m happy we were able to make it to the group stages.”
Beitar Jerusalem couldn’t though join them in the group stage of the competition after they drew 0-0 in France against St Etienne. Trailing 2-1 from last week’s first leg in Israel, the French side played more than half the match with ten men after goalkeeper Stéphane Ruffier saw red in the 44th minute, but the Israelis couldn’t score the two goals they needed to progress.
Maccabi Tel Aviv will though be joined by Israeli champions Hapoel Be’er Sheva in the draw, which takes place at 12 noon on Friday.