The glass slipper seems to be a perfect fit for Israeli side HaPoel Kiryat Shmona.
Wednesday night in Haifa they thoroughly dominated Azerbaijani league champions Neftchi PFK in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League home-and-home third round qualifying fixture. With an emphatic 4:0 victory, the Israeli champions are in the drivers’ seat heading into the return leg in Baku next week.
HaPoel opened the scoring with Barak Badash converting a penalty in the 42nd minute. A nifty finish by American-Argentian footballer Bryan Gerzicich in the 52nd minute doubled the lead, and a quick brace by Ravid Gazal in a six-minute span put the game well out of reach. Things look great for HaPoel as they prepare for their trip to the Caspian Sea to hopefully clinch a spot in the final qualification round on August 8.
Should they reach the last playoff round, it will be the fourth consecutive year that the Israeli league champions will have made it that far. 2009 saw Maccabi Haifa beat out Red Bull Salzburg to qualify for the group stage, 2010 had HaPoel Tel Aviv also besting Salzburg to advance, and last year Maccabi Haifa was eliminated by the Belgian squad FC Genk on penalties, just missing out on the Champions Leaue group stage, with its six games against elite competition and lucrative cash payouts.
Kiryat Shmona’s coming-out party in Champions League competition has been a dream so far. With some more inspired play next week, perhaps it won’t be long until the boys from the Galilee start playing the likes of European powerhouses such as Manchester City, Juventus, Barcelona, or Paris Saint-Germain in the group stages this fall.
Because as we all know, every ball needs a Cinderella.
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