Hapoel Tel Aviv yesterday looked a far cry from the team that in a couple of days could punch its ticket to the group stage of the Champions League. Hapoel Haifa outplayed a depleted Tel Aviv roster to hold on and beat the league champions and cup holders 1-0 at home in the opening match of the 2010/11 season. To make matters worse, an injury may sideline Tel Aviv's Itay Shechter for Tuesday's second leg against Red Bull Salzburg at home.
More than 2,000 fans waving red banners made the trip up from Tel Aviv only to discover that their beloved team that had just beaten Salzburg 3-2 in Austria would be playing without Shechter, Gil Vermouth, Omri Canada, Dedi Ben Dayan and Douglas Da Silva. Still, the team might have expected to prevail over Haifa, which finished in 11th place last season.
With the starters on the bench awaiting Tuesday's return leg against Salzburg, the substitutes were unable to generate any scoring opportunities during the entire first half.
Haifa's Croatian midfielder Sasha Stojanovic opened the second half by scoring the winning goal in style in the 48th minute. Had he received as many scoring chances as did teammate Eden Ben Basat, who was unable to convert any of his shots, the final result could have been much more painful for Tel Aviv.
Coach Eli Guttman responded to the goal by bringing in Shechter and Vermouth, but the fiasco grew worse when Shechter was dribbling the ball on the line and dropped to the ground on the side of the pitch. The injury forced him off the field. After examination, the team announced that Shechter is doubtful for Tuesday's match.
Beitar runs out of gas
Beitar Jerusalem yesterday made a brief, valiant attempt to overcome its own shorthanded roster but fell hard in Netanya, 4-1.
With Christian Alvarez out with appendicitis and Avi Raikan sidelined by injury, Beitar Jerusalem still managed to score the first goal in its opener with Netanya. Avrian Baruchyan took advantage of a poor attempt by Netanya defender Omri Ben Harush to clear the ball. He broke downfield and sent a beautiful cross to Amit Ben Shushan, who fired in the first goal from 11 meters to give Beitar the 1-0 lead.
It was all Netanya after that, as Achmad Saba'a equalized in the 35th minute, and Hen Ezra put the home side ahead for good in the 40th minute on Maor Asor's second assist of the night.