Heroic victory not enough for Hapoel Be'er Sheva

Israeli champs dominate Celtic at home but fall just short of the needed margin, winning 2-0 in valiant team effort.

Shai Landesman ,

Hapoel Be'er Sheva fans. Disappointed but proud.
Hapoel Be'er Sheva fans. Disappointed but proud.
Photo: Flash 90

A mightily impressive Hapoel Be'er Sheva fell just short of one of the most memorable results in Israeli soccer history.

Entering their 2nd leg match with Celtic after having been routed 5-2 in the first leg, Hapoel knew they had to win at least 3-0 against a higher-quality opponent in order to advance to the prestigious Champions League group stage.

Expectations were low entering last night's game, but Be'er Sheva quickly inspired hope in their fans.

In the 14th minute, left back Ofir Davidzada - who left the club for Belgium after the match - latched onto a Tony Nwakeme pass in the penalty area and was brought down. The referee awarded a penalty, giving Hapoel a golden opportunity to get themselves into the match.

Veteran midfielder Maharan Radi stepped up to take the penalty, but only managed a subpar effort toward the middle of the goal, which was easily saved by Celtic goalie Craig Gordon.

Be'er Sheva were not overly deterred however, and took complete control of the match, with the reward coming in the 21st minute as striker Ben Sahar met a Radi corner with a deadly accurate header into the goal, only two minutes after coming into the game.

The second goal came early in the 2nd half, as a woeful mix-up between Celtic's keeper Gordon and defender Saidy Janko left Be'er Sheva's Romanian international midfielder Ovidiu Hoban with an open net to tap into, 48 minutes into the game.

The sellout crowd in Turner stadium went into delirium, knowing that they're beloved team was only one goal away from achieving the impossible.

But it was not to be. The Reds of Be'er Sheva continued to dominate the match with all of Israeli sports fandom watching with bated breath as first Sahar, then Hoban narrowly missed opportunities to get the all important 3rd goal.

As the final whistle blew, the score was Be'er Sheva 2, Celtic 0. A fantastic victory for the Israeli champs in any other circumstances, but on this particular night, not enough.

Maharan Radi, who missed the penalty early in the match, exemplified the emotions going through the club when he broke down in tears after the final whistle. "It was just an outburst of emotion. We were better than Celtic the whole game and we could have scored more. We brought a lot of pride to Be'er Sheva and the country. You can say that I'm the tragic character in this story and I will carry that with me for a long time, but I won't let it take me to a negative place. I've been through a lot and we now have the Europa League," Radi said after the match.

Hapoel Be'er Sheva has indeed earned itself a spot in the 2nd tier Europa League, where expectations for it will be higher. The remarkable display of talent, grit, and team-spirit shown by the Reds over the past few seasons and especially this European qualification campaign have won them many admirers (including yours truly), and will certainly serve them well in the Europa League group stage.

The aforementioned team-spirit can be seen in the reaction of Captain Elyaniv Barda after the final whistle sounded, signifying that his team had fallen short.

Barda walked over to the weeping Radi, and put his arm around him. "We just beat Celtic at home," he told his distraught teammate, "What's wrong with that?"