DAVID SMITH - Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Bryan Gerzicich and Shmona did the job they needed in Tuesday's win against against Zililna, while Josh Gatt's injury kept him off the field as Molde had few problems to hold their lead at Ventspils.
Ironi Kiryat Shmona 2 - 0 MSK Zilina (agg. 2-1)
An own-goal by their Slovakian visitors and a late strike by Shimon Abihazira was enough to give Bryan Gerzicich and Ironi Kiryat Shmona a two-goal win over MSK Zilina, and passage to the third round of Champions League qualifying.
Playing in neighboring city Haifa due to UEFA stadium requirements, the displaced hosts consistently controlled the game for long stretches, although it took more than 70 minutes for them to reap any benefits.
A consistent string of chances in the first half were tantalizingly close, most notably a free kick strike just before the half which was barely pushed clear by visiting keeper Martin Dúbravka.
While Zilina's 1-0 lead put the onus on the Israeli champions to fight their way onto the scoreboard, their breakthrough finally came from the the foot of their Slovakian visitors.
In the 70th minute, El'ad Gabei fired in a cross from the right edge of the penalty area towards Ahmed Abed, however Vladimír Leitner's attempt to clear the ball from in front of goal was poor, with the defender knocking the ball into his own net to tie the aggregate scoreline.
Then eight minutes later, Shmona nabbed the crucial score that put them one step closer to the group stage. Shimon Abuhatzira picked up an intercepted pass as a gift from a careless Zilina defender, and stormed into the right side of the 18-yard before finding the target with a low strike to the opposite corner.
With the start of league play still one month away, Gerzicich and his teammates can focus solely on their next opponent, Neftchi Baku. The Azerbaijan champions reached the third round by way of a 5-2 aggregate win over Georgian team Zestafoni, however will likely be underdogs against their Israeli opposition.
The two teams will play the first leg of their qualifying round in Haifa on next Tuesday evening.
Josh Gatt is recovering from a thigh pull and did not suit up for Molde on Tuesday, as a 1-1 draw at Latvian champions FK Ventspils was enough to see them through to the third round of qualifying on a 4-1 aggregate win. They will next face Swiss team FC Basel, with the first leg to take place in one week's time.
Danijal Brković was not selected in the gameday squad for FK Željezničar, and was a spectator in the home stands as a 2-1 loss against visiting NK Maribor saw them knocked out of European competition with an aggregate 6-2 score.