Maccabi Haifa 2-0 SK Sturm Graz
Two goals from Yakubu Ayegbeni leave Maccabi Haifa 90 minutes from qualification for the UEFA Champions League after their victory against SK Sturm Graz in their third qualifying round first-leg meeting at Sofia's Balgarska Armia stadium.
Maccabi's Nigerian striker first pounced in the 19th minute to give the Israeli champions a deserved lead as he stole possession midway inside the Sturm half before racing past three Austrian defenders and firing the ball into the top-right corner of the net from 12 metres.
Ayegbeni then stunned the Austrians with another goal in second-half stoppage time when the 19-year-old turned the ball past Richard Wemmer after latching on to Dovani Rosso's pass. Ironically, Ayegbeni would not have been playing today had a move to England's Derby County FC not broken down over work-permit problems.
Earlier, Maccabi were unlucky not to have taken the lead in the tenth minute when Alon Harazi and Adoram Keise both headed narrowly over the crossbar following successive corners, but soon after Ayegbeni found a way past Wemmer.
Sturm offered little in attack until the 56th minute when Charles Amoah registered their first attempt on target, but his header struck the crossbar. The Austrians showed some more urgency following the introduction of Roman Mählich, but his long-range effort was narrowly wide of Dudu Awate's goal.
The Israeli side should have doubled their advantage 19 minutes from the end, but Ayegbeni shot tamely at Wemmer when left with a clear run on goal after dispossessing the last Austrian defender to leave the tie delicately poised.
Sturm saved their best for last, but Alain Masudi was denied by the post and then a goalline clearance in the last three minutes of the match before Ayegbeni struck again. The victory leaves Maccabi on course to become the first-ever Israeli side to reach the group stages.
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