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Hapoel realising Champions League dream

Moni Harel, the chairman of Hapoel Tel Aviv, believes that his team can make history after reaching the group stages of the Champions League for the first time.

    Party time: Hapoel manager Eli Guttman (left) celebrates with Dedi ben Dayan and Avihay Yadin
    Party time: Hapoel manager Eli Guttman (left) celebrates with Dedi ben Dayan and Avihay Yadin

    Moni Harel, the chairman of Hapoel Tel Aviv, believes that his team can make history after reaching the group stages of the Champions League for the first time.

    The Reds drew 1-1 with Red Bull Salzburg at the Bloomfield Stadium on Tuesday night to book their place after going through 4-3 on aggregate.

    An own goal from Douglas da Silva, Hapoel's Brazilian defender, left the tie on tenterhooks with the Austrians needing one more goal to go through.

    But a stoppage-time strike from Eran Zahavi sent Hapoel into dreamland. Now they can look forward to rubbing shoulders with some of Europe's giants including Chelsea, Manchester United, Barcelona and holders Inter Milan.

    Harel said: "We feel we can become the first Israeli side to get past the group stage, and perhaps even reach the quarter-finals." The victory saw Hapoel become only the third Israeli team to reach this stage. A season in the Europa League, where they reached the knockout stage after beating Celtic and received a pot of £1.6 million, has clearly benefited the club. They are likely to be placed in the fourth tier of teams ahead of today's draw.

    The Israeli champions will receive a minimum of £9 million. The group's senior players will receive a £100,000 Euro bonus for reaching the group stage while the rest of the squad earning £45,000 each.

    "This is the realisation of a dream," said Hapoel manager Eli Guttman. "This is every manager's dream. The best possible feeling. My players were great. We did not play great football tonight but it's the result that counts. We let in a goal from nowhere but the crowd stayed behind us."

    It remains to be seen whether or not Hapoel will be allowed to play their home group matches at the Bloomfield. Earlier this month Uefa ruled that it was unsuitable and suggested that they adopt the national stadium at Ramat Gan. But Hapoel are happy to forego the extra gate receipts for the atmosphere in the more compact stadium.

    Itay Shechter, who scored in the first leg, has explained his bizarre celebration where he took out a kippah from his sock, put it on his head. He said: "It was given to me by a Hapoel fan at the airport. I thought that if God let's me score I'll put it on and say the Shema. I was only thinking about how happy all the Jewish people at home would be watching the game on TV."

    Moshe Zinger, 60, travelled to Salzburg despite suffering from cancer, after giving Shechter the kippah. He said: "It gave me such a lift that I reckon if they checked me now they would find I am healthy."

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