Maaran Lala scored a deserved winning goal in the 88th minute to clinch a 2-1 victory for Hapoel Tel Aviv over Celtic in the opening game of Europa League group play at the Bloomfield stadium last night.
Gil Vermuth made the goal possible by breaking out from midfield to the goalline before passing the ball to Lala for the winner. The goal completed a comeback after going down 1-0 in the first half, a lead Celtic held until the 75th minute.
"At the half I told the players we would win, and we don't play to draw," said Hapoel coach Eli Guttman after the match. "We realized that when we pressure them they lose the ball. We put in attacking players and took a risk, but we wanted a decisive result. We played our game according to plan."
Tony Mowbray's men came into town with a reputation as a major European club, but the Scottish side's level of play suggested that they are not as scary as they once were, and that they may be overly generous with the way they spend their money.
Not that anything should be taken away from Hapoel Tel Aviv's performance. Even on an off-night for Celtic, Hapoel had to play its best to win - and the team played the best it has all season.
Guttman started out with five midfielders but quickly figured out it wasn't all that bad, and played with two strikers in front. Midfielders Nemanja Vucicevic and Vermuth were the men of the match, while Avihai Yadin and Douglas Da Silva also put in outstanding performances.
Celtic drew first blood in the 26th minute, when Georgios Samaras exploited a miscue by Walid Badir to put the visitors ahead.
Hapoel launched attack after attack from the outset of the second half, eventually breaking through in the 75th minute, when Vucicevic fired a shot past Celtic goalkeeper Artur Boruc,setting up the situation for Lala's heroics.