Maccabi Haifa and Kairat Almaty played to a 1-1 draw in UEFA Champions League qualifying first round, first leg action at Sammy Ofer Stadium. The Greens were greeted by an electric crowd as the fans feted the Israeli League champions with songs and cheers especially after Omer Atzily scored a brilliant goal in the box just at the stroke of halftime. However, the Kazakhstan squad kept pressing Barak Bachar’s team and found the equalizer via a header off a corner in the 76th minute setting up the decisive return leg in Almaty next Wednesday.
“There’s no question that Kairat is in better shape than us but that is no excuse,” Bachar said about the Kazakhstan squad having already been playing domestic league games for quite some time. “We have a very good team and this was a very even game. We could have scored more goals and we had to be sharper. I believe that we will know how to win next week.”
Veteran central defender Rami Gershon also reflected on the draw, “It’s disappointing and we were better than them but we can’t discount Kairat as we knew that they are a good club. We’re optimistic, we believe in ourselves and I hope we can get the result we need next week.
Maccabi Haifa got the 2021/22 soccer season underway as the hosted Kairat Almaty in the first round of UEFA Champions League qualifying at Sammy Ofer Stadium at the foot of the Carmel Mountain. The game against the Kazakhstan side was the first of two matches with the return leg slated to take place next week in the city of Almaty located close to the borders of Kyrgyzstan and China.
This season will see a number of changes to the competition including the elimination of the away goals rule which where goals scored by the visiting team would be used as a tie breaker should the score be tied on total goals after the two games are completed.
The clash against Kairat marked the third time that head coach Barak Bachar will be facing the Kazakhstan squad after having played the same club while he was the bench boss of Hapoel Beer Sheva.
The Greens entered the contest after having held a week long early training camp in Holland where coach Bachar was able to begin getting his players into game shape, however, it’s not a simple matter to get the squad to go from 0 to 100 in a matter of days while Kairat is already in the midst of their domestic season.
During the short off season Haifa was able to refresh the attack by bringing in veteran Israeli international Ben Sahar along with Ashdod forward Dean David while Australian marksman Nikita Rukavytsya is still not signed for the upcoming campaign.
The last time Maccabi Haifa played in the Champions League group stages was back in 2009/10 when Coach Elisha Levy was able to make it through three qualifying rounds in order to punch their ticket to play against the likes of European heavyweights Juventus and Bayern Munich.
Since then, the Greens have played in the Europa League group stages with the last time coming in 2013/14. Last season, Bachar’s squad was bounced out of Europa League qualifying in the playoff round when they succumbed to English powerhouse Tottenham Hotspur.
Haifa looked to get on the board early with a number of fast breaks out of their half of the pitch but Mohammad Abu Fani coughed up the ball giving Kairat’s veteran striker Vagner Love all the time in the world to score but his chip just went over the goal as the game remained scoreless in the 7th minute.
Neta Lavi needed to be replaced in the 14th minute due to an injury as Jose Rodriguez came on for the captain while Godsway Donyoh was issued a yellow caution card soon thereafter. Kairat tried to surprise the hosts with a quick restart but Denis Polyakov’s stunner from 20 meters out just missed the target to keep the match goalless in the 25th minute.
Donyoh went in all alone on the visitors goal but Kairat’s keeper Stas Pokatilov came racing out of his goal to the tip of the box to smother the ball before the Haifa striker could get off a clean shot while Polyakov’s missile at the other end went wide of American/Israeli Josh Cohen’s goal as things began to heat up.
Just as the clock hit the 45th minute, Omer Atzily glided his way into the box, weaved through the Kairat defense with a nifty give and go with Abu Fani as he cleanly beat the keeper roofing the ball into the goal to give Haifa a 1-0 lead as the game just ahead of the halftime break.
Kairat came out blazing to begin the second half but Vagner Love came up short from inside the box while also missing via a long distance scorcher as the visitors turned up the pressure. Donyoh had a brilliant chance in the area but his attempt was taken care of by Pokatilov while Sun Menachem’s shot shot was also saved by the keeper as the score remained as is in the 65th minute.
Bachar made a trio of substitutes in the 66th minute as Dolev Haziza, Dean David and Ori Dahan all entered the game with the last two making their Haifa debuts, however that didn’t stop Kairat from evening up the score ten minutes later as Nuraly Alip headed home the equalizer off a corner kick.
Haziza gave Menachem a nice ball but his attempt went off the woodwork which was immediately followed by Ben Shahar coming on as Haifa’s final substitute as he missed from close in at the 88th minute. However, that was as close as the Greens would get as the game ended in a 1-1 draw with the second leg taking place next week in Kazakhstan.