Eran Zahavi has a flair for the dramatic. His goal in stoppage time last year in the Israeli championship won the league title for HaPoel Tel Aviv, and last night, in the ninety-third minute, his left-footed blast into the back of the net guaranteed HaPoel’s advance into the group stage of the UEFA Champions League. The 1:1 tie with Red Bull Salzburg was more than enough (even a 1:0 loss would have resulted in a HaPoel advance), and this fall HaPoel will be competing against some of the top teams in the world.
After an uninspiring first ninety minutes of play, featuring an awful bit of goalkeeping by HaPoel’s Nigerian goalkeeper, Vincent Enyeama, as he batted a cross off his teammate, Brazilian defenseman Douglas Da Silva, the late goal sent the Israeli crowd into a frenzy and guaranteed HaPoel’s fans three home games against other elite European teams. Given the way that the Champions League draw is structured, the odds are strong that a team such as Chelsea, Barcelona, or Manchester United will be traveling to Bloomfield Stadium this fall. The draw for the group stages will occur August 26 in Monaco.
Not only that, but advancing to the Champions League has significant financial implications for the club, as the lucrative TV contracts and sponsorships associated with the Champions League guarantees HaPoel over seven million Euros (not including ticket revenue and bonuses for wins and draws). All in all, it’s a great day to be a HaPoel fan, or a fan of Israeli soccer in general.