Maccabi Haifa FC will be hopeful of reaching the UEFA Champions League group stage for a third time after completing a narrow home win against KRC Genk.
First-half goals by Weaam Amasha and Vladimir Dvalishvili fairly reflected the nature of a game dominated by the hosts, but a 61st-minute strike against the run of play by former Maccabi striker Elyaniv Barda has given the Belgian champions heart of turning the play-off tie around in the return on 23 August.
Maccabi established an early stranglehold, taking the lead after eight minutes when Amasha skilfully brought down Eyal Meshumar's searching pass, held off José Nadson and drove in his fourth goal of the qualifying campaign.
Elisha Levi's charges continued to surge forward, almost doubling their advantage on 17 minutes when Dvalishvili's free-kick deflected against the crossbar. Though the visitors briefly sparked into life, when Barda screwed a shot wide moments later, Genk were soon two behind. A sweeping team move culminated in Eyal Golasa picking out Dvalishvili to score from close range.
Amasha and Idan Vered both squandered further chances before Genk threatened with a rare shot − Dániel Tőzsér's deflected free-kick brilliantly saved by Nir Davidovitch four minutes before half-time. The second period appeared to suggest a packed Ramat-Gan Stadium would be treated to more goals for the hosts, as Amasha fired wide after Vered played him into the area and Seidu Yahaya forced a fine save from László Koteles.
Yet, out of the blue, Genk scored, Barda popping up on the rebound after Kennedy Nwanganga had bust through and been denied bravely by Davidovitch. Boosted by their precious away goal, Jelle Vossen then had a chance to square the tie, cutting inside from the right but sending his low shot wide of the near post.
The visitors then came even closer when Khaleem Hyland's shot through a crowded penalty area was saved by Davidovitch, who then had to scramble Nwanganga's header off the line with a sprawling dive.