Maccabi Haifa blew a golden opportunity to score a significant European upset in Greece, allowing a 2-0 first-half lead to slip away against host PAOK Thessaloniki in a 3-2 loss last night. Haifa’s goalkeeper Bojan Saranov was alternately hot and cold, combining brilliant saves with untimely errors that ultimately cost Maccabi the Europa League match.
Haifa started out strong and did not look intimidated at all by the Greek fans. In the 13th minute, Haifa’s South African striker Dino Ndlovu managed by a lapse in the Greek defense to steal the ball away near the penalty area, then slot home a perfectly aimed kick to the left of the diving keeper into the right corner of the goal.
Just eight minutes later, Eyal Golasa scored Haifa’s second goal with a dead-on kick into the corner.
Just when things were looking brightest for the visitors, Haifa started falling apart. It began with Haifa failing to properly defend its goal, which Miguel Vitor exploited for PAOKs first goal. Invigorated, PAOK would keep attacking the remainder of the half. In less than two minutes, they won a penalty after a dubious penalty call on Haifa defender Edin Cocalic. However, Saranov stopped the penalty kick by PAOK’s Miroslav Stoch.
PAOK managed to equalize in the 39th minute, when Saranov moved out of the goalposts poorly and allowed Sotiris Ninis to head the ball past him. Five minutes later, Saranov redeemed himself somewhat by stopping another penalty kick by Stoch the Serb.
The second half was a lot less hectic, but that is cold comfort for Haifa in retrospect. In the 66th minute, Saranov made another critical mistake, failing to close off the corner of the goal, allowing striker Dimitris Salpingidis, PAOK’s captain, to sneak past the winner.
Instead of tying PAOK with four points, Haifa now finds itself mired in last place of Group 12, with just one point to PAOK’s seven, good enough for first place. AZ Alkmaar drew with Shakhtar Donetsk, giving the two teams respectively five and two points.