There is no such thing as a free lunch - not even in an Europa League qualifier against a semi-amateur team from a country whose population is one-tenth Israel's. Maccabi Tel Aviv assured its place in the tournament's third qualifying round by staving off FC Mogren 2-1 in Montenegro last night to win 4-1 on aggregate.
Later yesterday, Bnei Yehuda fell 1-0 to Ireland's Shamrock Rovers in its second-leg encounter at Jaffa's Bloomfield Stadium, surrendering the series 2-1 on aggregate.
Tel Aviv struck early, as just seven minutes in, recently acquired Bosnian midfielder Haris Medunjanin found the corner of the net from 22 meters out. Tel Aviv had three more close scoring chances before the break. Mogren's lone strike came on a late Vladimir Gluscevic penalty kick.
The second half saw an impotent, lethargic Maccabi take the pitch, the kind of team its third-round rival Olympiacos would dispose of easily. The players will have to learn how to play 90 minutes of consistent soccer if they hope to advance to the playoff round.
At Bloomfield, Bnei Yehuda (and former national team ) coach Dror Kashtan made a surprising roster choice in benching skipper Assi Baldout and midfielder Shalev Menashe in favor of less-experienced players.
Thomas Stewart drew first and only blood in the 70th minute to oust the south Tel Aviv club from European play. "We just want to do our club proud, ourselves proud and Ireland proud," the Northern Irishman said afterward.
Stewart noted that for many of his teammates, the Dublin club's third-round contest next week against Italian giant Juventus is the biggest match of their career.
Bnei Yehuda chairman Hezi Magen struck a resigned note. "We were looking forward to Juventus, but now it doesn't matter," he said. "We'll turn our thoughts to the league."
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