The Jerusalem Post

Maccabi Haifa’s Champions League hopes go down the drain with loss in Kazakhstan

- • By JOSHUA HALICKMAN

Maccabi Haifa fell to Kairat Almaty 2-0 late Wednesday night in the second leg of first-round UEFA Champions League qualifying to lose the two-legged tie 3-1 on aggregate as it dropped down to Conference League qualifying.

The host side took the game right to the Greens as Vagner Love scored in the first half and Aybol Abiken added an insurance marker in the second to bounce Barak Bachar’s squad from playing in the continent’s marquee club competitio­n.

With the defeat in Kazakhstan, Haifa will now participat­e in Conference League qualifying second-round action, where it will face Dinamo Tblisi, with the first leg being played in Georgia on Thursday July 22 with the second match back in Israel on July 29.

“It’s tough to be disappoint­ed because we deserved to lose,” said a somber Bachar following the defeat. “We gave up a goal and after that we weren’t accurate. We were soft and we tried to change our formation and players, but it didn’t work. Our goal now is to advance to the next round of the Conference League.”

Bachar made wholesale changes to his starting lineup on Wednesday following a 1-1 firstleg draw with Kairat in Haifa and inserted Dean David and Dolev Haziza up front along with defensive back Sean Goldberg and midfielder Jose Rodriguez, who were all making their first starts of the young season.

However, the moves didn’t work early on for Haifa as veteran Brazilian striker Love worked his way through the porous defense and chipped the ball over a helpless Josh Cohen to give the hosts a 1-0 lead in the 10th minute.

Kairat continued to threaten as Love took a terrific low liner from distance, but Cohen was able to paw the ball to safety as it just squirted by the right post and out for a corner kick in the 32nd minute.

Just a few minutes later, the hosts once again went on the attack as an active Love’s attempt in the box was saved by Cohen despite him being blinded by traffic in front of the net to keep the score as is at the halftime break.

Bachar brought on Ali Mohammed at the start of the second half to freshen up the offense as Haifa began to create chances in the Kairat end of the pitch.

Mohammed Abu Fani’s solid effort was taken care of by Stas Pokatilov in the 55th minute as Haifa made a second substitute by bringing on Godsway Donyoh in place of David.

But instead of the visitors finding the equalizer, Abiken pounded home the ball in the box after a comedy of errors to give Kairat a 2-0 lead in the 65th minute.

The Greens made a third substituti­on as Ben Sahar entered the fray and they created a brilliant chance to cut the lead, but Donyoh skied the ball out of play.

Haifa continued trying to break through Kairat’s stingy defense with multiple chances by Omer Atzily and Haziza, but couldn’t find a way past Pokatilov as it was eliminated from Champions League qualificat­ion.

Next Thursday, meanwhile, Maccabi Tel Aviv will begin its Conference League qualificat­ion in the second round with a date against the winner of the FC Gagra and FK Sutjeska Niksic first-round matchup.

Garga, which is based in Tbilisi, Georgia, is making only its second appearance in European qualifying after winning the Georgian Cup this past season. Sutjeska Niksic, from Montenegro, has been participat­ing in continenta­l play since 2003 and has never kicked off against an Israeli foe.

Patrick van Leeuwen will be back on the sidelines for the yellow-and-blue and is still in the midst of building his squad for the new season after signing Israeli defender Idan Nachmias from Irooni Kiryat Shmona and striker Osama Khalaila from Bnei Sakhnin. However, it’s expected that there will be more reinforcem­ents coming in from abroad as the summer continues on.

Hapoel Beersheba will visit Arda from Bulgaria in the first leg of the second round of Conference League qualifying and is making its European debut after finishing in fourth place in the domestic league.

Roni Levy made a number of quality signings going into the new campaign as he overhauled the goalkeepin­g situation by bringing in Israeli internatio­nal Ariel Harush and Omri Glazer as a solid 1-2 punch in between the posts.

In addition, owner Alona Barkat brought in midfielder Dor Micha after he spent a season abroad, as well as veteran striker Itay Shechter and central defender Eitan Tibi - both from Maccabi Tel Aviv - along with imports Eugene Ansah from Ghana and Italian Davide Petrucci.

In Ashdod, Ran Ben Shimon’s team will have to get by Qarabag in the second round of Conference League qualifying with the first leg being played in Baku. The Azerbaijan­i club featured in the Europa League group stages last season against Maccabi Tel Aviv and have been playing in continenta­l action for many years.

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