UEFA Conference League playoff round matches were on tap for a trio of Israeli clubs as they looked to get off to a good start in their respective first legs in order to advance to the group stages of the new continental competition.
Maccabi Haifa made a furious comeback to record a 3-3 draw against Neftci Baku in Azerbaijan. After going down 3-1, Tjaron Chery scored a pair of late goals to pull the Greens even in the first of two legs as they will now try to use the home crowd to their advantage in order to move into the group stages of the Conference League.
Omer Atzily gave the visitors an early 1-0 lead when he latched onto a Ali Muhammed pass and sent a ball that deflected off a defender and into the Baku goal. However, Yusuf Lawal scored his first of two when he sent a stunner from 20 meters out that went into the top corner of the goal to even the game up at 1-1 in the 50th minute. Lawal was once again the center of attention a quarter hour later when he beat Bark Bachar’s keeper Josh Cohen which was quickly followed up by an Emin Makhmudov strike to take a shocking 3-1 lead.
But just minutes later Ismayil Zulfugarli was sent off with a red card after a reckless foul giving Haifa the lifeline that they so desperately needed as the hosts were reduced to 10-men. Tjaron Chery got to work, first with a brilliant free kick that went behind the Neftci keeper and then by easily finishing off a terrific play by Dolev Haziza to send the two match series back to Israel all knotted up at 3-3.
“This was truly one crazy game,” Bachar said after the draw. “We began well but then we gave up some easy goals. But to come back the way we did, even against ten men is not easy. This was a tough field, but we found a way to get even and now we will need our fans to help us move into the group stages.”
Maccabi Tel Aviv slipped by Shakhtar Karagandy 2-1 thanks to a pair of late goals to turn around a 1-0 deficit and snatch the victory in Astana, Kazakhstan. After a goalless first half in which the yellow-and-blue dominated play, the hosts took a shocking lead in the 74th minute when substitute Idris Umaev headed home the ball past a helpless Daniel Peretz.
However, that strike gave Patrick van Leeuwen’s squad the jolt they needed as they quickly leveled the score when Avi Rikan scored from the top of the box thanks to a Matan Hozez assist just a minute later. Then in the 77th minute Luis Hernandez threw the ball into the box where it eventually was nodded behind the Karagandy keeper Igor Shatskiy by new recruit Eden Shamir to take the lead and the win.
“We needed that pinch to wake up,” van Leeuwen explained about the comeback win. “We didn’t create many real opportunities despite controlling the game. We needed something negative in order to wake up and get back into the game, to pick up the pace and to score twice.”
The game winning goalscorer Eden Shamir commented on his first marker for Maccabi, “I’m very happy to have scored the goal and that as a team we won the game. I believe that is what is most important and makes my debut that much better. Goal was just a bonus.”
Hapoel Beer Sheva hosted Anorthosis Famagusta to a disappointing 0-0 draw at Turner Stadium in the southern capital. Roni Levy’s team created few chances and will now have to win away from home in Cyprus in order to move on to the group stages of the competition.
“We faced a very tough team who battled in order to try and find a way to win the game,” Levy stated following the draw. “There were times in the second half that we played well and created chances but we were missing accuracy to finish the plays off. It’s natural that in European games if you don’t score early then the game becomes much more difficult.”
Veteran central defender Eitan Tibi also commented on the goalless stalemate, “This was a good game where we had opportunities but unfortunately we didn’t take advantage of them. They are also a very good team and now we have another game on the road and I believe that we can do it.”