Maccabi Tel Aviv captain Gal Alberman says it’s “crucial” for his side to reach the group stages of next season’s Europa League.
Speaking after his side’s 2-1 win over Kazakhstan side Kairat Almaty, which saw them secure a 3-2 aggregate lead, he said: “We really wanted to advance to the next stage and we came up against a very difficult opponent. We’re still in the very early stages of the campaign and I’m happy that we made it up. It’s very important that we will be moving on to the next round and it’s also important that we make it to the group stages of the Europa League. It’s crucial for the Club and it gives the players a different experience. I hope that we’ll make it happen.”
Tal Ben Haim II got them off to the perfect start in Tel Aviv, when he put them in front after just, though Gerard Bi Goua Gohou’s equaliser just past the hour mark levelled things up once more.
But just as the toe looked as if it was heading to penalties, Alberman netted the winner with just four minutes left on the clock. He added: “Maccabi is a strong club and it doesn’t matter how many coaches, players or CEOs will be changed, the spirit of Maccabi is here and it’s very strong. We’re a strong club that doesn’t give up because we know how to score goals at the most critical moments of the match just like today. I hope that this will continue.”
Joining them in the third qualifying round is Beitar Jerusalem. Although they lost their second leg tie on the night – a 3-2 defeat in Cyprus was still enough for them to beat Omonia 3-3 on the away goals rule.
Having won last week’s home leg 1-0, Omer Atzili’s 17th minute penalty put the Israeli firmly in control. Amir Agayev drew the home side level, though Atzili’s penalty on the stroke of half time put Jerusalem back in control. There was still time for Irishman Cillian Sheridan’s to convert from the spot before the break, to give the home supporters something to cheer about.
Onisiforos Roushias’s strike nine minutes from time ensured a nervy finish, but the visitors held on for the win.
However, there was heartache for Maccabi Haifa, who looked to be joining them in the next, only for them to concede a last-minute equaliser, before being dumped out on penalties.
Having been held to a 1-1 home draw by Estonian side Nomme Kalju last week, Nikita Rukavytsya’s 34th minute penalty looked like it would be enough to see them through. However, Tarmo Neemelo’s 90th minute equaliser took the tie to extra-time time, and with no further addition to the scoreline, Kalju won the shoot-out 5-3.
The competition continues on Thursday with the first legs of the third qualifying round draw. Maccabi Tel Aviv take on Pandurii Târgu Jiu, with the first leg in Romania, while Beitar Jerusalem face Jelgava, with the first leg taking place in Latvia.
The night before sees last year’s Israeli league champions Hapoel Beer Sheva take on Greek side Olympiakos in Athens, in the first leg of their Champions League third qualifying round tie.