Maccabi Haifa FC made sure of their second appearance in the UEFA Champions League group stage after goals from Vladimer Dvalishvili, Eyal Golasa and Mohammad Ghadir secured a 3-0 victory over FC Salzburg and, with it, a resounding 5-1 aggregate triumph.
The Israeli titleholders may have led 2-1 from the first leg but the home supporters could have been forgiven for taking nothing for granted given their favourites' history of snatching defeat from the jaws in victory in past UEFA Champions League qualifiers. This time, however, they never looked in danger of surrendering their advantage. After becoming Israel's maiden group-stage contestants in 2002/03, they are now the first side from the country to have made it through a second time.
Elisha Levi's men had three times as many shots on target over the 90 minutes and they threatened several times in the opening half-hour – notably when the influential Yaniv Katan dragged a shot wide after Salzburg goalkeeper Edward Gustafsson hit a clearance straight at him. In the 31st minute, they made the breakthrough after Katan drove forward and slipped a pass through to Dvalishvili. The Georgian striker had his first effort blocked by defender Franz Schiemer but duly picked up the loose ball and fired it low across Gustafsson and into the corner of the goal.
Salzburg struggled to produce a telling response, coming no closer in the first period than a 20-metre effort that Somen Tchoyi sent harmlessly wide. After Baram Kayal's long-range strike had tested Gustafsson soon after the restart, Salzburg coach Huub Stevens sought to change things with a double substitution, sending on Alexander Zickler and Admir Vladavič but to no avail. The green tide kept rolling forward and though Dvalishvili missed a near-post chance from Katan's low cross, Golasa made it 2-0 moments later with a strike from outside the box that deflected off Stefan Ilsanker on its way past Gustafsson.
Home and dry
Levi's men were now home and dry. The veteran Alon Harazi, a survivor of Haifa's third qualifying round loss to Salzburg back in 1994/95 came on, Dvalishvili had a goal disallowed for offside and there was still time for Ghadir to gild the lily with Haifa's third in the 90th minute after a mix-up between Gustafsson and Barry Opdam. Haifa goalkeeper Nir Davidovitch, who missed the club's last group-stage appearance in 2002/03 because of injury, can expect to be rather busier when they join the big boys next month.