Hapoel Tel Aviv reach Champions League group stage

By Danny Caro, August 25, 2010

Hapoel Tel Aviv became only the third Israeli club to reach the group stages of the Champions League following a nail-biting draw against Red Bull Salzburg last night.

Leading 3-2 from the first leg in Austria, and with three crucial away goals in the bank, Hapoel looked nervous throughout the first half, seemingly unsure whether to keep Salzburg at arm’s length or go on the attack. For the first 45 minutes they did neither.

The hosts looked comfortable until a moment of madness from Nigerian keeper Vincent Enyeama. There appeared to be little danger as Salzburg attacked down the right. The ball was whipped in and in a moment of panic, Enyeama punched the ball against the thigh of Brazilian defender Douglas da Silva and the ball rolled agonisingly into the net to make it 3-3 on aggregate. A deadly hush revolved around the Bloomfield Stadium.

Gil Vermouth came within inches of squaring things up on the night. Showing quick feet on the edge of the box, he sent a low drive goalwards. The ball crashed against the inside of the post, rolled along the goalline but out of play.

Salzburg maintained their advantage going into the second half, knowing that one more goal would take them through. But Hapoel held firm and a stoppage time strike from Eran Zahavi put them in dreamland, confirming a £9m pay day for reaching the group stages where they could play Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, Barcelona and holders Inter Milan. The draw is on Friday.

Hapoel coach Eli Gutman said: “It’s a dream come true. What a team they are. It was not the greatest game and we conceded a goal from nothing but I am honoured and privileged that for the second season in succession a coach from Israel has taken a side to the Champions League group stage.”

See the match in pictures here

Watch Hapoel Tel Aviv striker Itay Shechter celebrate the team's third goal last week in his own unique way.

Last updated: 1:01pm, August 25 2010