Hapoel Tel Aviv did not play badly at all, but lost 2-1 to visiting Viktoria Plzen, while Kiryat Shmona played nowhere near as well as host Sparta Prague did in falling 3-1 last night. The losses leave both teams with slim chances of advancing to the next stage.
Hapoel Tel Aviv can only dream of what might have been last night. A mediocre team in the form of Plzen played an open, attacking style that let Hapoel reach its goalmouth over and over. Hapoel should have finished the first half with a hefty lead, but a lot of selfishness by Toto Tamuz and misses by Tal Ben Haim denied Hapoel several first-half scoring chances.
Ben Haim's shot in the 10th minute hit the goal post, before Hanan Maman put the hosts ahead in the 19th minute.
Over 12,000 fans provided a tremendous atmosphere at Bloomfield, and it looked like coach Yossi Abuksis would walk away with his first European victory and perhaps advance to the next stage. But Hapoel still cannot put together 90 minutes of solid play. Instead, it conceded the equalizer in first-half injury time and then the game-winner in the 55th minute.
The defense is still weak and slow, and perhaps yesterday's loss will allow the team to focus on league play.
Kiryat Shmona's prospects, in contrast, never looked bright in Prague. After failing to advance to the group stage of the Champions League earlier this year, the team hardly looked like it belonged in the Europa League yesterday.
Kiryat Shmona looked like a one-hit wonder, and the game was practically over in the first 10 minutes after goals by Ladislav Krejci and Vaclav Kadlec.
Only when it was deep in a three-goal hole did the team pick up its level of play, but Shimon Abuhazeira's goal didn't comfort the visitors. Sparta simply had too many scoring opportunities.
"It's hard to sum up a game like this," said Kiryat Shmona coach Barak Bachar after the game. "I'm very disappointed with how we looked in the first half, but still encouraged by the character the players showed in the second half."
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