Maccabi Haifa FC produced a remarkable comeback to book their place in the UEFA Champions League play-off round as the Israeli champions overturned a three-goal deficit in a 4-3 win over FK Aktobe.
Trailing 3-0 after just 15 minutes, Maccabi reduced the arrears with goals before half-time from Yaniv Katan and Eyal Golsa before Vladimer Dvalishvili then completed the turnaround with two strikes around the hour-mark. After a goalless first leg in Kazakhstan, the floodgates opened eight minutes into this return fixture with Evgeni Averchenko stunning the sell-out crowd at Kiryat Eliazer with a curling shot past Nir Davidovich.
Five minutes later, Maccabi's defenders left Anton Chichulin unmarked in the area to double Aktobe's lead and Vladimir Mukhanov's visitors were in dreamland on the 15-minute mark when Marat Khayrullin made it three. Maccabi looked to have dug themselves a hole too deep to climb out of, but captain Katan stirred hopes of a fightback when he pulled a goal back in the 26th minute.
Night to remember
After Golsa had made it 3-2 with a deflected shot after 34 minutes, Georgian international Dvalishvili equalised a minute before the hour, rising highest to head in from a Katan corner. At 3-3, Aktobe would still have advanced on away goals but Dvalishvili, a close-season signing from Skonto FC, had other ideas and sent the Maccabi fans into raptures three minutes later when he found space in the area and slotted in the winner. With the visitors tiring, Elisha Levi's hosts had chances to extend their lead but 4-3 proved enough on a night neither group of players will forget in a hurry.