Europa League: Maccabi in, Betar out

Maccabi Tel Aviv will play in group stage following dramatic penalty shootout, Betar fail to win in France and crash out.

Shai Landesman ,

Maccabi Tel Aviv players celebrating
Maccabi Tel Aviv players celebrating
Photo: Maccabi Tel Aviv official website

Maccabi Tel Aviv joined the already-qualified Hapoel Be'er Sheva in the Europa League group stage last night (Thursday). The draw for the group stage will take place this afternoon, with powerhouses such as Manchester United possibly waiting in the wings to be drawn against an Israeli club.

Maccabi does just enough in Croatia, eventually

Tel Aviv entered their 2nd leg match against Hajduk Split carrying a 2-1 lead over from the first game in Israel last week, but were destined to lose it in the hostile away environment of Hajduk's home stadium.

Two goals by Marko Sosic, which sandwiched an Oscar Scarione equalizer, meant that Split won 2-1 on the night, and thus evened things out on the aggregate of the two games. With the scores of the two legs perfectly mirroring each other, the tie went to 30 minutes of extra time.

After neither team scored in the overtime period, the game went into penalties.

The score was tied after each team took their minimum five penalties, but then Fran Tudor of Split skied the ball well over the goal on his shot, leaving Maccabi with an opportunity to win it with a good penalty.

Winger Avi Rikan stepped up to the spot with confidence, and smashed the ball into the top corner, sending the Maccabi players and staff into delirium.

"The moment their player missed I knew I was going to score," Rikan said after the match, "I took that penalty with all my heart."

Betar out with a whimper

Meanwhile, in France, Betar Jerusalem failed to get the win it needed to overcome the 2-1 deficit from the first leg against St. Etienne.

A red card for the French side's keeper meant that Betar played the entire 2nd half with a man advantage, but they still failed to score, with the departing Omer Atzili the only Betar player who came close.

Though even reaching the playoff round of qualification is a great achievement for Betar, they will feel disappointed they couldn't do more. In the first game in Jerusalem last week Betar was in control for the whole match, and still lost, while in last night's game the man advantage should have resulted in better opportunities to score and win.

Betar's best player leaves

Omer Atzili, the most talented player on Betar's roster over the past few years, signed a contract with Grenada, who play in Spain's La Liga. There, he will have the opportunity to play against the best players in the world, Lionel Messi of Barcelona and Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid, if he gets playing time that is.

Israel national team coach Elisha Levy will be hoping that Atzili will hone his skills and become the international star that Israel needs in order to qualify for big tournaments.