By Ofer Ronen-Abels at the Bloomfield stadium
The first UEFA Champions League tie on Israeli soil since the lifting of the three-year ban on competitive matches there had a happy ending for the home club as substitute Liran Cohen's late winner sent Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC into a third qualifying round tie against PAOK FC of Greece.
With extra time looming after the second leg seemed set to match the goalless outcome of the first, Tamir Cohen's cross was volleyed in by the replacement to end HJK Helsinki's resistance - although the Finnish side had a late chance for an away-goal triumph headed off the line in added time.
Maccabi named the same starting lineup that drew in Helsinki last week, but although the home side dominated possession in the first half, they did not trouble HJK goalkeeper Andras Vilnrotter. At the other end dangerous visiting striker Mika Kottila was kept closely marked, but his team-mate Vili Savolainen had the best chance of the period when his powerful low drive went just wide not long before the break.
Seven minutes after the restart, HJK went close again when Reoven Oved was robbed in midfield, and the visitors broke. Kottila unselfishly laid off for Petri Oravainen, but his effort was cleared off the line by a combination of goalkeeper Liran Strauber and John Pantsil. Maccabi's Erez Mesika then had his team's first good chance, but Vilnrotter again saved well.
Strauber then made another vital intervention of his own, a spectacular stop denying Raffaele De Gregorio's effort from the edge of the area. On the hour mark Maccabi coach Nir Klinger decided to take action and brought on Barukh Dego for Oved, followed four minutes later by Liran Cohen's introduction in place of Eli Biton.
The replacements transformed the game, and Maccabi went close three times as many minutes. Mesika was denied by the feet of Vilnrotter, Ishmael Addo headed over and the HJK custodian also dived bravely to prevent a Liran Cohen shot. Maccabi continued to attack, and finally their persistence was rewarded three minutes from time when Tamir Cohen's cross eluded the HJK defence and Liran Cohen made no mistake.
In added time HJK substitute Jukka Santala almost saved his side's campaign, but his volley was headed off the line by Ghanaian defender Pantsil. Maccabi travel to Greece next week with the return a fortnight later.
Klinger is already looking ahead to that tie, and said: "The performance today will not be enough against PAOK. Even though I do not know them and have yet to begin preparing to face them I am certain that they are favourites to win the tie."
'Tough to lose so late'
His opposite number Keith Armstrong said: "It is tough to lose so late in the game as it makes it impossible to come back. However we still had a great chance to grab a late equaliser but it was cleared off the line."
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