FC BATE Borisov survived a late rally to end Hapoel Kiryat Shmona FC's hopes of marking their first UEFA Champions League campaign with a place in the group stage. Their 1-1 draw in Israel meant the two goals from Vitali Rodionov in BATE's 2-0 first-leg success proved decisive in settling the play-off 3-1 on aggregate.
A delightful free-kick from László Lencse set up a dramatic finale but BATE's experienced rearguard held firm, and Aleksandr Pavlov sealed the victory with a breakaway goal in added time.
It was always going to be an uphill struggle for Kiryat Shmona, who were missing influential midfielders David Solari and Bryan Gerzicich through injury, and key defender Dušan Matović following his red card in Minsk.
However, the surprise champions of the Israeli league started brightly and gave the small but vociferous crowd plenty to cheer at their adopted home of the Itztadion Ramat Gan. Their best chance before the break fell to Hungary Under-21 international Lencse, whose clipped effort drifted over Andrei Gorbunov but wide of the goal.
With the onus on Kiryat Shmona to attack, BATE were happy to play on the break with Rodionov providing their main goal threat. The 28-year-old striker had two good opportunities before half-time but missed the target with the first and found the body of goalkeeper Daniel Amos with the second.
BATE did not concede a goal in either of their previous away games in qualification and were content to defend in numbers in the second half. However, the pattern of the match changed midway through when substitute Barak Badash was fouled on the edge of the area and Lencse curled in a superb free-kick into the net.
With hopes raised of a famous comeback, striker Shimon Abuhazira had two late chances to take the match into extra time but could not find the target. As they threw players forward looking for the second goal, Kiryat Shmona were ultimately undone on the break. Pavlov collected a pass from Dmitri Mozolevski and slotted into an empty net.
Hapoel's impressive run to the play-offs has been a huge learning curve for a team so inexperienced at this level and they still have the consolation of a UEFA Europa League group stage campaign. For their part, the Belarusian side could be a force to be reckoned with on their third appearance in the group stage in the past five years.