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Maccabi Haifa, an Israeli team, reaches the European Champions League
The Jerusalem Post (www.jpost.com) reports that the Israeli soccer team Maccabi Haifa has beaten the Austrian team Graz to reach the European Champions League final stages.
The result of Wednesday night's game completed a 5-3 aggregate victory for Haifa. The hot-tempered match of six goals and three sendings off, turned a dream into reality, and will set a new benchmark for Israeli clubs.
Israel should normally play against its neighbors Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, but unfortunately the Middle East Islamic countries reject the Jewish State. Therefore Israel is considered part of Europe (for sports purposes) and plays all of its games, including qualifying tournaments for participation in the World Cup, against European teams.
This is the first time an Israeli team has ever reached the European Champions League final stage.
I copy the full article below.
Maccabi Haifa makes Israeli soccer history
Maccabi Haifa yesterday muscled its way into history by clinching a spot in UEFA's Champions League group stages, after holding Sturm Graz to a 3-3 draw at Arnold Schwarzenegger Stadium in Graz, Austria.
The result of Wednesday night's game completed a 5-3 aggregate victory for Haifa.
The hot-tempered match of six goals and three sendings off, turned a dream into reality, and will set a new benchmark for Israeli clubs.
Haifa's coach Yitzhak Schum couldn't hide his delight at becoming the first coach to lead an Israeli side to Europe's top-32 clubs competition.
"If someone deserves to be in the Champions League, it is Haifa's owner Ya'acov Schahar, and these amazing set of players and fans," Schum said after the match.
"This is a great time for all the players here, as this the highlight of every proffessional's carreer," said Giovani Rosso, who scored Haifa's first goal to equalize at one apiece.
The Croatia-born midfielder who has been playing in Israel for the past seven years, and has applied for Israeli citizenship showed where his loyalty lies, when he added, "When our country is suffering so much these days, it is only our pleasure to put a smile on the faces of so many Israelis today."
But victory was not assured.
Haifa went on to the worst possible start, conceding a goal just 10 minutes from the start. Goalkeeper Dudu Awat chose to place only one player against Eddy Bosnar's free kick, which was awarded 30 meters away from his goal.
The Australian defender rifled a low, powerful free kick that Awat misjudged, bringing the Austrians back into the tie and sending the home fans into an uproar.
Ayegbini Ya'akoubu, whose two goals in the first leg gave Haifa the comfortable lead, then put pressure on Graz's defenders. In the 16th minute, the Nigerian's volley beat goalkeeper Heinz Weber, but narrowly missed the target.
Four minutes later, Schum thought he may have to do without Rosso for the rest of the match, after the Croat remained on the ground following a crunching tackle.
But less than 60 seconds later, Rosso's vision and awareness led to what may be remembered as the most important goal in the history of Israeli football.
Rosso capitalized on a mistake by the Austrian goalkeeper as he stripped a defender of the ball on the edge of Graz's penalty box.
He then exchanged passes with Walid Badier and Alon Harazi down the right flank before breaking into the area. Rosso shook off two defenders and, as the ball seemed to have gone out of touch, his low shot come cross from an accute angle, catching Weber off guard a the far post.
Haifa's 1,500 fans who traveled from Israel and all over Europe began celebrating in the stands, as they all knew that Graz would have to score three more goals to deny them a historic birth in the Champions League.
Two minutes before the interval, Haifa almost snatched a second as Yaniv Katan's through ball released Ya'akoubu, whose attempt was blocked for a corner.
While Schum kept his starting lineup intact for the second half, his countrpart Ivica Ossim shuffled his side and introduced two substitutes for the restart.
Ten minutes after the break, Alain Masudi tested Awat with a long-range effort that failed.
A minute later, Graz took the lead for the second time in the match. Imre Szabics was given the time and space deep inside Haifa's area as he exchanged passes with Gerald Strafner before sending a fierce left-foot drive that beat Awat to make it 2-1.
Avishai Zano replaced Katan right on the hour mark as Schum decided to bolster his midfield. But in the 67th minute the Haifaites were reduced to 10 men after Ya'akoubu was shown a controversial red card from referee Alain Hamer for what seemed like a 50-50 challenge, forcing him to miss the next two matches.
Five minutes later, Graz exploited its numerical advantage as Gunter Neukirchner increased the led to 3-1 following good work by substitute Horst Heldt.
The Haifaites could have sealed the tie in the 76th minute as a long ball outside the defense released Raimondas Zutautas into the area, forcing Weber to charge off his line.
The goalkeeper remained on the ground clutching his head, leaving Zutautas and Rosso with a golden goalscoring opportunity.
Rosso's first attempt was cleared off the line by a defender before Nenad Peralja was fouled in order to give Weber time to recover.
But, from the resulting free kick, Adoram Keisi pounced onto Peralja's free kick that had deflected off a defender, sliding in to boot the ball into the top of the net and sending Haifa into group stages.
Nine minutes from time, Bosnar was sent off for a challange on Peralja to equal the number of players from both teams.
Badier and Zano each missed chances to level the score. But, in the final seconds, Badier found himself with only Weber to beat as he rounded the keeper and rolled the ball into the net, leveling the score at 3-3 and ensuring Haifa's place in the Champions League draw.
The draw takes place in Monaco this evening at 5 p.m. (live on Sport 5+).
The Haifaites advanced together with 15 clubs through the qualifying rounds. Defending champion Real Madrid is among the 16 clubs that are already in the hat, after being allocated automatic entry on the basis of their performances in their domestic leagues.
The 32 contestants will be drawn into eight groups of four teams. Each group will contain a team from one of the eight top seeds, plus a team from second, third, and fourth-ranked sides.
The winners and runners-up in each group will advance.
All teams will be allocated to four pots in accordance with the seeding principles, based on the UEFA list of club coefficients.
Teams from the same country will not be drawn into the same group. If two teams from the same association qualify, they will be paired to split their matches between Tuesday and Wednesday.
Real Madrid (Esp), Bayern Munich (Ger), Man Utd (Eng), Barcelona (Spa), Valencia (Spa), Juventus (Ita), Arsenal (Eng), and Inter Milan (Ita) were ranked as the eight top seeds and will avoid each other in the draw.
The eight teams who are ranked as second seeds are: Deportivo La Coruna(Spa), last season's finalists Bayer Leverkusen Ger), Liverpool (Eng), Galatasaray (Tur), AS Roma (Ita), Olympic Lyon (Fra), Borussia Dortmund (Ger) and Feyenoord (Hol).
Haifa who were ranked 41st prior to last night's return leg will also seemingly avoid facing Newcastle Utd who was seeded 26th and placed in the fourth-ranked pool.Posted by David Melle at August 28, 2002 05:13 PM
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(According to digits.com)