HaPoel Tel Aviv has arrived! After an excruciating opening four matches that only garnered them one point (a 0:0 draw against FC Schalke a few weeks ago), HaPoel made a powerful statement on Wednesday evening with a historic 3:0 victory at home against FC Benfica.
Eran Zahavi, he of the championship-winning goal last year in the Israeli Premier League, and of the Champions League-clinching goal in late August against Red Bull Salzburg, scored a brace of goals as HaPoel cruised to a 3:0 victory in front of 13,000 fans at Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv. It was HaPoel’s first-ever win in UEFA Champions League group competition and the first by an Israeli team in the group stage since Maccabi Tel Aviv took down Ajax in 2004.
HaPoel remains in last place in the group, but still has an outside chance of placing third in the group and qualifying for the Europa League, UEFA’s second-tier competition. By pulling off a monumental upset against Olympique Lyon, in Lyon, on December 7, combined with a Benfica loss or tie at home to Schalke, HaPoel could qualify.
The odds were never good for a HaPoel advance to the Champions League Round of 16, and even the most optimistic fans would probably have been happy with a Europa League qualification. No matter what the result of the final match-day, though, a 3-0 win in the Champions League means a whole lot to the minnows from Tel Aviv.
It’s not just a moral victory, though. HaPoel’s win earned them a cool 800,000 Euro (about $1.1 million) payday from UEFA. Along with its 400,000 Euro bonus for the draw against Schalke, that money will go a long way in helping HaPoel acquire better talent in the coming years.
Kol HaKavod to the boys in red! And good luck in Lyon in two weeks. Who knows? Red lightning might indeed strike twice.