Eli Guttman, manager of Hapoel Tel Aviv, praised his team after they came within two minutes of reaching the Europa League before their hopes were crushed by a late equaliser in Lyon.
Goals from Ben Sahar and a stunning over-head kick from Eran Zahavi had seen Hapoel come from behind to lead 2-1 against the former Champions League semi-finalists in this gripping Group B contest. But an 88th minute effort from Alexandre Lacazette meant that the Reds finished bottom of the group with Benfica progressing to the Europa League as third-place finishers.
The strike meant that Lyon finished second in the table after Schalke won 2-1 at Benfica.
After a goalless first half, it was Brazilian striker Lisandro who put the hosts ahead, firing past Vincent Enyeama. But Hapoel were behind for only a minute as substitute Sahar, the former Chelsea striker, grabbed an equaliser.
Hapoel were soon in dreamland as Zahavi converted a stunning scissors-kick past France No. 1 Hugo Lloris.
Enyeama kept Hapoel ahead with a string of stunning saves only for Lacazette’s late effort to break Israeli hearts.
Guttman reflected: “We were a step away from a massive upset. A lot of teams have failed here: Lyon reached the Champions League semi-finals last year. They are an amazing side but we have improved in every game we have played. We are Hapoel Tel-Aviv, representing Israel, but if you walk into the dressing room right now, you will not find happy faces celebrating a draw in Lyon, but ones disappointed to have dropped two points.
“My players performed really well and we scored a goal I'm certain will rank as one of the best in the Champions League. Eran Zahavi, who else? We are proud but disappointed as Schalke beat Benfica at the same time. That late goal cost us so dearly.”
Lyon coach Claude Puel, commented: “We created opportunities and when you don't finish the job, one goal from your opponent can ruin the night. Fortunately Schalke won and this draw has no repercussions.
“We lacked skill and aggression and we were also up against a very good goalkeeper. There is much disappointment, but it comes more from the previous two games. Now I feel we have a strong, focused squad, and I'm confident we'll show our true value in the second part of the season.”