Sahar raises Hapoel's Champions League chance

By Simon Griver, August 5, 2010
Ben Sahar scored his first goal for Hapoel

Ben Sahar scored his first goal for Hapoel

Former Chelsea star Ben Sahar scored his first goal for Hapoel Tel Aviv at Bloomfield Stadium on Tuesday night as the Israelis beat Aktobe 3-1 (3-2 on aggregate) to move into the Champions League play-offs.

Seeded in the strong half of today's (Friday) draw, Hapoel have an excellent chance of reaching the Group Stage for the first time ever.

Hapoel striker Itay Shechter said, "I'm dreaming of the Champions League anthem and finding myself one-on-one against keepers like Casillas and Valdes."

Trailing 1-0 from the away leg in Kazakhstan, it was Shechter that ensured Hapoel's progress with two first half assists. In the 16th minute he skipped down the right and beat two men to set up an easy chance for Eran Zahavi with a low cross.

Zahavi who had missed with just Aktobe's keeper Andrei Sidelnikov to beat in the second minute made no mistake this time.

In the 31st minute, Shechter put Sahar through and the striker beat a defender and rounded the keeper before doubling the score.

A freak own goal in the 35th minute, when Aktobe's Khalifa Ba miscued a clearance which arched over his own keeper and went in off the post, looked to have clinched the tie for Hapoel.

The Israeli champions went to sleep in the second half and Hapoel were also thwarted by the referee with at least three dubious offside decisions.

Aktobe always looked the more likely to score. Hapoel's Nigerian keeper saved well from Murat Tleshev in the 48th minute and Marat Khayrullin shot just wide from 15 meters in the 54th.

Hapoel were rudely awakened in the 90th minute when Tleshev pushed home a corner that Enyeama parried, and the 13,000 crowd suffered several minutes of high anxiety as the visitors mounted several attacks that might have stolen the game on away goals.

The late lapse spoiled the triumph for Hapoel manager Eli Guttman. He said: "The last few minutes were unbearable after we should have killed off the game in the second half. We cannot afford to relax if we want to go further in this competition."

Sahar said, "It's great to be back at Hapoel. It's a while since I've played in such heat and humidity. With talented team mates like Shechter and Vermut we can have an excellent attack."

The victory guaranteed at least £5 million for Hapoel from Uefa. Should they lose in the play-off round for the Champions League, they will still advance to the Group Stage of the Europa League.

Last updated: 3:42pm, August 10 2010