Maccabi Haifa 4-0 FC Belshina Bobruisk
Maccabi Haifa had Rafi Cohen to thank for a convincing second qualifying round first-leg victory in the UEFA Champions League against FC Belshina Bobruisk in Cyprus.
The match took place in Nicosia after security concerns about playing the game in Israel, but the lack of crowd support failed to hinder Maccabi who were always in control and are now overwhelming favourites to progress to a tie against SK Sturm Graz for a place in the first group stage.
Belshina actually went close to opening the scoring in the second minute. Ihar Trukhau missed a golden opportunity when sent clear by an excellent pass from Dzianis Karolik but that was as good as it was going to get for the Belarussian champions.
Rosso added third
Cohen did the damage in three first-half minutes. Two excellent strikes in the 19th and 21st minutes put Maccabi firmly in the driving seat and when Giovanni Rosso added a third on the stroke of half-time, after a good pass from Nenad Pralija, the tie looked beyond Belshina.
However, Belshina emerged for the second half in high spirits, perhaps mindful of the fact an away goal would put them back in contention. Karolik and Trukhau both had good chances to score but found Nir Davidovitch in fine form in the Maccabi goal.
It was Maccabi that had the final say as substitute Oluwasegun Abiodun headed the Israeli team's fourth goal in the 86th minute, eight minutes after entering the action as a replacement for Yaniv Katan.
It was an overwhelming defeat that leaves Belshina with little hope of recovery in the second leg next Wednesday. Katan, Rosso and the lively Cohen caused constant problems and will hope to profit again in the return.
'Only one half'
Maccabi coach Itzhak Shum refused to take victory for granted though. "It was good to win 4-0 but that was only half the game," he said. "There is still another 90 minutes to play and we have to go to Belarus and bear in mind that they can also win 4-0."