Hapoel Be’er Sheva traveled to Southampton on Thursday needing a win or a score draw (a draw in which goals are scored), to book their ticket into
the Europa League Round of 32.
As no Israeli team has ever won a match in England (3 draws and 6 losses in 9 games) Southampton surely expected to go through, and as the scoreless draw held well into the second half, the hosts were content to sit back and pay for a 0:0 draw that would send them into the knockout stages. While they dominated possession (58%-42%), generated more than twice as many offensive chances than Be’er Sheva (16-7), and had a 7-1 advantage on corner kicks, the Saints’ first goal proved to be elusive.
In the 79th minute, though, Maor Buzaglo’s strike (see at 4:15 in the video below) got by Fraser Forster and Be’er Sheva took a shocking 1:0 lead; the away goal for the Camels would prove to be decisive. Virgil Van Dijk’s late equalizer was not enough for Southampton, as despite their identical 2-2-2 records and their advantage on overall goal difference, the tiebreaker for 2nd place in the group was based on head-to-head results and Be’er Sheva advanced on away goals.
Be’er Sheva’s stunning rise to the top of Israeli soccer has been well-documented, and their summer and fall of play in Europe has been no less impressive. In Champions League qualifying they dispatched Greek champions Olympiacos in round 3 and came up just one goal short against Celtic in the playoff in a flashy 4:5 aggregate loss. Their play did not suffer in Europa League play, as they beat Inter Milan twice en route to a 2-1-2 record entering their showdown against the Saints.
Southampton manager Claude Puel’s tactics clearly showed a willingness to play for the scoreless draw, and fans and tabloids on the south coast will no doubt remind him of that failed approach in the coming days. Be’er Sheva fans, though, particularly 1,000 who made the trip to the UK for the match, are left to celebrate another incredible result- traveling to England to play a team 12th in the Premier League and coming home with a draw that felt more like a victory.
Depending on how things end up in future rounds, Be’er Sheva may have a chance to go for a historic win in England at either White Hart Lane against Tottenham in the Round of 32, or even at Old Trafford against mighty Manchester United if they can advance to the Round of 16.
With the group stage complete, and another historic performance by Be’er Sheva in the books, rumors are escalating about manager Barak Bakhar and his rising star in Europe, which has led to whispers that he might even succeed Brendan Rogers at Celtic should he leave. Now that would be something.
The draw for the Round of 32 takes place on Monday in Nyon and the Camels will be paired with either a group champion from one of the other 7 Europa League groups or one of the 8 third-place teams from the Champions League group stage. There are some tasty potential opponents in that mix, including Roma, Tottenham, or Ajax. Stay tuned.
In other Europa League action, despite Maccabi Tel Aviv’s 2:1 win over Dundalk in their group, Zenit’s loss to AZ Alkmaar kept Maccabi in 3rd place and ended their European campaign.
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