Maccabi Haifa fell to Kairat Almaty 2-0 in the second leg of first round UEFA Champions League qualifying to lose their two legged tie 3-1 on aggregate as they dropped down to Conference League qualifying. The hosts took the game right to the Greens as Vagner Love scored in the first half and Aybol Abiken added an insurance marker in the second to bounce Coach Barak Bachar’s squad from playing in the continent’s top club competition.
With the defeat, Haifa will now participate in Conference League qualifying second round action where they will face the loser of the Dinamo Tblisi (GEO)/Neftci (AZE) matchup with the first leg being played on Thursday July 22 and and the second match on July 29.
Maccabi Haifa visited Almaty for the second leg of their first round UEFA Champions League qualifying tie as the Greens looked to punch their ticket to the next round. Head Coach Barak Bachar made wholesale changes to his starting lineup and inserted Dean David and Dolev Haziza up front along with defensive back Sean Goldberg and midfielder Jose Rodriguez all making their first starts of the young season.
However, the moves didn’t work early on for the Haifa as veteran Brazilian striker Vagner Love worked his way through the porous defense and chipped the ball over a helpless Josh Cohen to give the hosts a 1-0 lead in the 10th minute.
Kairat continued to threaten as Love took a terrific low liner from distance but Cohen was able to paw the ball to safety as it just squirted by the right post and out for a comer kick in the 32nd minute. Just a few minutes later the hosts once again went on the attack as an active Love’s attempt in the box was saved by Cohen despite being blinded by traffic in front of him to keep the score as is at the halftime break.
Bachar brought on Ali Mohammed to begin the second half to freshen up the offense as Haifa began to create chances in the Kairat end of the pitch. Abu Fani’s solid effort was taken care of by Stas Pokatilov in the 55th minute as Haifa made a second substitute by bringing on Godsway Donyoh in pace of David.
But instead of the visitors finding the equalizer, Aybol Abiken pounded home the ball in the box after a comedy of errors to give Kairat a 2-0 lead in the 65th minute. The Greens made a third sub as Ben Sahar entered the fray as they created a brilliant chance to cut the lead but Donyoh’s skied the ball out of play.
Haifa continued trying to break through Kairat’s stingy defense with multiple chances by Omer Atzily and Haziza but couldn’t find a way past Pokatilov as they were eliminated from Champions League qualification.
Next Thursday, Maccabi Tel Aviv will begin their Conference League qualification in the second round with a date against the winner of the FC Gagra and FK Sutjeska Nikšić first round matchup. Garga, which is based in Tbilisi, Georgia are making only their second appearance in European qualifying after winning the Georgian Cup this past season. Sutjeska Nikšić from Montenegro have been participating in continental play since 2003 have never kicked off against an Israeli foe.
Patrick van Leeuwen will be back on the sidelines for the yellow-and-blue and is still in the midst of building his squad for the new season after signing Israeli defender Idan Nachmias from Kiryat Shemona and striker Osama Khalaila from Bnei Sakhnin. However, it’s expected that there will be more reinforcements coming in from abroad as the summer continues on.
Hapoel Beer Sheva will visit Arda from Bulgaria in the first leg of the second round of Conference League qualifying and are making their European debuts after finishing in fourth place in their domestic league. Roni Levy made a number of quality signings going into the new campaign as he overhauled the goalkeeping situation by bringing in Israeli international Ariel Harush and Omri Glazer as a solid 1-2 punch in between the posts.
In addition, owner Alona Barkat brought in midfielder Dor Micha after spending a season abroad, veteran striker Itay Shechter and central defender Eitan Tibi both from Maccabi Tel Aviv along with imports Eugene Ansah from Ghana and Italian Davide Petrucci.
At the port city of Ashdod, Ran Ben Shimon’s team will have to get by Qarabag in the second round of Conference League qualifying with the first leg being played in Baku. The Azerbaijani club featured in the Europa League group stages last season against Maccabi Tel Aviv and have been playing in continental action for many years.