Two goals from Vitali Rodionov put FC BATE Borisov in pole position to qualify for the UEFA Champions League for the third time in five years at the expense of Hapoel Kiryat Shmona FC.
The winger scored in each half of the play-off first leg to cap a fine solo display against a spirited Israeli side who were weakened by the dismissal of Dušan Matović midway through the second half. Competition debutants Hapoel face an uphill struggle to become only the fourth Israeli side to reach the group stage when the teams meet again on 28 August.
With returning midfielder Aleksandr Hleb acting as their creative force, BATE started confidently and created a host of chances in the opening half-hour. Daniel Amos had already made three fine saves before being stretched by Rodionov's powerful shot in the 20th minute, the Hapoel No1 diving full length to turn the ball against the post.
Rodinov, though, was not to be denied and nine minutes later he put BATE in front. Dmitri Mozolevski produced a fine piece of skill on the left before delivering a pinpoint pass for the 28-year-old, who turned sharply in the area and fired low into the bottom corner of the net.
With Rodinov a constant threat on the flanks and Mozolevski also looking dangerous, the hosts looked to be in control but Hapoel grew in confidence as the interval approached. They created a series of chances, the best of which set Shimon Abihazira clean through on goal but the striker shot straight at Andrei Gorbunov.
Hapoel's improvement continued as the second half unfolded, with BATE struggling to impose their passing game. However, the game shifted decisively in the home side's favour when Matović was shown a second yellow card in the 70th minute for a foul on Rodionov.
As the visitors started to tire, gaps appeared in their defence and one such opening was expertly exploited by Aleksandr Volodko with 12 minutes left. His incisive pass put Rodionov clear; with confidence high, a beautiful finish was curled beyond Amos to double the advantage.
Hleb had a late chance to add a third and, though his delay allowed the goalkeeper to gather, BATE will look to finish the job next week.