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Hapoel Tel-Aviv 1-0 Milan AC
Hapoel Tel-Aviv continued their remarkable giant-killing streak by humbling Milan AC 1-0 in their UEFA Cup quarter-final first-leg encounter thanks to a wonderful goal from Serghey Clescenko.
The match had to be played at a neutral venue in Cyprus due to security fears in Israel, but the Tel-Aviv fans travelled in great numbers to the GSP stadium in Nicosia and were rewarded with a spectacular winning goal.
It came 32 minutes into the game after Milan Osterc broke down the Tel-Aviv right and laid the ball back to Yossi Abuksis, who worked tirelessly in the Israeli side's midfield all evening. Abuksis delivered a curling cross beyond the far post to Clescenko, who watched it on to his boot and then hammered a low volley across Milan goalkeeper Christian Abbiati and into the far corner of the net.
Four in a row
The goal ultimately condemned Milan to their fourth consecutive defeat because, despite enjoying most of the second-half possession, the Italian side could not force an equaliser. Unless Milan can rediscover their goalscoring touch - they have now gone more than six-and-a-half hours without finding the net - they will join a long list of high-profile clubs that have crumbled against Tel-Aviv this season when they meet for the return leg in Italy next week.
Chelsea FC, FC Lokomotiv Moscow and Parma AC have already fallen by the wayside at the hands of Dror Kashtan's determined Tel-Aviv outfit, who must fancy their chances of qualifying for the semi-finals after this fearless, resilient display. Tel-Aviv, clearly not intimidated by their illustrious opponents, put Milan under pressure from the start. Osterc had an early shot blocked before Ilan Bachar fired narrowly over and Clescenko went close with a long-range header.
It took 20 minutes for Milan to muster a convincing attack, and when they did so, it was squandered by Demetrio Albertini. Massimo Ambrosini pulled the ball back from the by-line but Albertini failed to connect convincingly with his right-foot effort. Four minutes later, Rui Costa fed the ever-involved Serginho on the left flank but, rising above the Tel-Aviv defence eight metres from goal, Javier Moreno nodded Serginho's cross over the bar.
Despite the tireless work of Alessandro Costacurta at the heart of the Milan defence, Tel-Aviv came back into the game and their goal just past the half-hour mark was just reward for their efforts. But the strike signalled a change in gear from the Italians, who spent the rest of the match relentlessly searching for a way to unlock Tel-Aviv's stubborn defence. Moments before half-time, Rui Costa sent a free-kick wide of Shavit Elimelech's goal, and it was the Tel-Aviv goalkeeper that continually denied the Italians after the break.
Eight minutes into the second half, Serginho whipped in a fantastic cross but Ambrosini watched in disbelief as Elimelech pulled off a wonderful acrobatic save to stop the striker's powerful downward header. After Abuksis was penalised for a tackle on José Chamot on the hour, Serginho's free-kick dropped at Moreno's feet. He side-footed the ball towards the far post, but Elimelech was alert enough to beat Roque Junior to the loose ball. Moments later, after Serginho's flying volley flashed across the face of goal, Elimelech was on hand to save Ambrosini's close-range header.
With 20 minutes left, Serginho cut inside but put his powerful effort high above the Tel-Aviv crossbar and seven minutes later Elimelech was the hero again, this time getting down low to save the Brazilian's header. Tel-Aviv captain Shimon Gershon thrice slid in to intercept dangerous left-wing crosses. As the clock ticked down Milan produced their best move of the match. Cosmin Contra, Costacurta and Massimo Donati combined well on the right, but, unsurprisingly, Elimelech saved the day again.
The final whistle was greeted with roars of joy from the Tel-Aviv fans, and coach Kashtan was ecstatic. He said: "It's a very high moment for Israeli football and a very historical moment for the club defeating a team like Milan who have been champions of Europe five times. We still have the game next week in the San Siro and, as of Saturday, we will start preparing for it. I am proud of the players and the crowd for their support because of the circumstances in Israel. It was a great moment for me, the players, Tel-Aviv and the people of Israel."
Despite seeing his side lose, Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti remained optimistic. "We deserved to win because the team played as they had to," he told the club's official website. "We were very unlucky, regardless of refereeing decisions. I believe that we can turn the game around in the return match if we play as well as we did tonight."
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