All Hapoel Tel Aviv really wanted was just to get through yesterday's second leg of the second qualifying round of the Champions League against Zeljeznicar in Sarajevo without any injuries or other unforeseen calamities. A goal by Douglas da Silva in the second half was the lone highlight in the Reds' 1-0 win over the Bosnian club in Sarajevo.
Going into the game with a nearly insurmountable 5-0 aggregate advantage from their first meeting at Bloomfield Stadium in Jaffa last week, Eli Guttman's charges were not as complacent as feared.
As for the Bosnians, they were bent on restoring some pride and obliterating the taste of their disgraceful performance last week from memory.
If it was possible, both teams would have been happy to skip the formalities and agree beforehand on a draw, exchange jerseys in a ceremonial gesture and shake hands before the whistle was sounded. The game was irrelevant since the final outcome was never in doubt. But UEFA rules are rules, so they played.
Hapoel and Zeljeznicar decided to take things easy and enjoy themselves on the pitch yesterday. Free from any serious pressure, Guttman's team moved the ball crisply in an effort to break the scoreless tie, but the Sarajevo side would not break easily. Zeljeznicar coach Amar Osim was surely asking himself why these players could not summon the same determination last week. He suddenly saw his team play unyielding defense, one which consistently denied the high-powered Israeli champion - led by Gil Vermuth and his mates - any serious scoring opportunities.
Even his goalkeeper, Ibrahim Sehic, decided to show up for a change, blocking the net for long stretches of the game. The Bosnian attackers also performed as if the heat and humidity in Israel last week had paralyzed them, constantly testing Guttman's defensive alignment. An uneventful first half ended 0-0 after Zeljeznicar nearly scored on a ball that caromed off the crossbar. In the second half, Hapoel's Itay Schechter was especially eager to find the back of the goal for his first of the season, and his teammates were making a concerted effort to jump start their top offensive gun. Schechter was given the ball often, yet he appeared lost on the wings.
In the 76th minute, da Silva showed him how it's done when he corralled a Vermuth free kick into his chest and guided the ball into the goal from close range to give the Premier League champ a 1-0 lead.
Guttman will certainly like to see Schechter unveil his deadly arsenal when the Reds meet their next opponent.
Kazakh champ awaits
Kazakh champion Aktobe represents the next hurdle for Hapoel in its quest to reach the Champions League group stage. Yesterday Aktobe advanced to the qualifying third round by drawing Olimpi Rustavi 1-1 in Georgia in the second leg. Aktobe wins by an aggregate score of 3-1.
Rustavi's Giorgi Rekhviashvili headed the ball into the net off a corner kick in the 30th minute to give the home team a 1-0 advantage. In the 90th minute, however, Aktobe's Murat Tleshev evened the score to ensure his team of advancing.
Six key players for Aktobe - midfielders Marat Khairullin, Konstantin Golovskoy, and Andrey Karpovich, forward Tleshev, and defenders Khalifa Ba and Alain Bono - were all given yellow cards in an uneventful match.
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