“This is the proudest moment of my life,” Levi told JC Sport. “Despite all the obstacles we faced - playing our home leg outside of Israel and with our pre-season plans ruined by the war - my players were a credit to their club and Israel. Don’t forget that we played against one of Europe’s biggest clubs and held them to a draw. Each one of their players is worth more than our entire squad. Had we played in Israel, it could have been different.”
Progress from the final qualifying round would have put the Israelis in line for a £12 million windfall. Now they will have to make do with a Uefa Cup place.
Before a crowd including 250 Kiev Jewish youngsters whose tickets were purchased by the Jewish Agency, Liverpool took a second-half lead from a header by beanpole striker Peter Crouch. Haifa levelled through Roberto Colautti’s 62nd minute strike, but couldn’t find a second goal which would have taken the tie into extra-time. The nearest they came was a curling effort from Colautti which brought a stunning save from Pepe Reina.
Haifa keeper Nir Davidovich had earlier kept his team in the game with three fine stops to deny Luis Garcia.
Before the match, Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez had been given a rough ride by Israeli journalists for describing attempts to stage it in Israel as “crazy.” However, Levi said he had no problems with his counterpart.
“I hold him in the highest regard. Like me, he thinks about his team and supporters. Liverpool are a wonderful team and club. I wish them well.” Argentinian-born Colautti, who recently obtained Israeli citizenship, added: “We were not scared of Liverpool. We know they have top players but they are only human. We stuck together, played our game and pushed them all the way.”
Benitez praised Haifa as “a very, very good team. I believe we deserved to go through as we created the most chances.”