The Yellow-and-Blue atoned for their 1:2 defeat to Hibernians last week in Malta with a 5:1 home victory at Bloomfield Stadium winning on aggregate 6:3. The supporters were out in full force cheering on their heroes throughout the game and helped Maccabi celebrate their return to home in style!
Man of the Match Eran Zahavi caused fits for the visiting side all night long as his insertion into the starting lineup gave Head Coach Slavisa Jokanovic a different look offensively and many more options on the pitch. The captain was a constant scoring threat throughout the match, continuously slicing and dicing the Hibernians defense for the full 90-minutes. Not only did Zahavi score two goals, the first of which was a penalty in the second half, but his presence allowed for wingers Tal Ben Chaim and Dor Micha more freedom and space to execute plays and catch the Hibernians players off guard.
Maccabi began the game on fire trying to find a quick goal and put the pressure on the visitors, however it took until the 32nd minute when Brazilian striker Jorginho scored an own goal off an Eran Zahavi corner kick to put Maccabi in front 1:0.
The slim 1:0 lead would have been good enough for Maccabi to advance, but in the 52nd minute a Gilmar corner kick found Rodolfo Soares who evened up the score at 1:1. This forced Maccabi to press even more as they would now need at least two more goals to move ahead in qualifying. Now only would they get the two goals, they would get four more.
Speedster Tal Ben Chaim was pulled down in the Hibernians box resulting in a penalty that Zahavi would convert in the 58th minute to make the score 2:1 for Maccabi. Then just three minutes later Ben Chaim would score a goal of his own to make it 3:1 and the rout was on.
Nosa Igiebor would join the scoring parade as he also put the ball behind Hibernians ‘keeper Borg off a Zahavi free kick and to put the cherry on top of Maccabi’s first European match at Bloomfield Stadium in over a year-and-half Zahavi would score his second of the match in the 90th minute.
Head Coach Slavisa Jokanovic spoke about his first win at Bloomfield Stadium:
“We did it, but we will have to improve on our performance. In general I’m happy with how the players did against Hibernians. We came to the match a bit nervous after the mistakes we made last game, but we made some changes that gave the players more confidence and what we saw was a team that was totally confident tonight on the pitch.
I’m only here four weeks now and before I came everyone talked about the future of the club and Maccabi’s dreams of making it to the Champions or Europa League. There are a few areas that we would like to strengthen and there are players that we have targeted in those positions. European competition is difficult and we will have to hurry as we only have a week to get ready.”
Jokanovic also talked about the first leg against Hibernians: “The journalists did their job. In the first match, I made a lot of changes that perhaps was more than we all could handle. I took a step back and when I see that the players will have the confidence to go forward with different styles of play we will do so. Maccabi has a good squad and we are trying to do some good things together. We have four matches coming up and we will strengthen the side. I take full responsibility with how the team plays on the pitch especially when the club doesn’t play well like what happened in Malta. I’m part of Maccabi and I have faith in the staff to bring new players who can help us achieve our goals.”
The coach also looked at the challenges ahead: “We are going to have to make a drastic improvement as there is a very good team that has done well in Europe that awaits us. I didn’t come here to give up. Everything is possible and I will work with my club and try to fix the issues that we need to deal with. I’m not asking for time or patience and I said this when I started here, but we have to make improvements immediately. The atmosphere was terrific and the fans are dreaming that we make it into a European competition. I will try to do everything in my power to help the club reach its dreams of playing in Europe.”
Defender Tal Ben Haim discussed the win:
“We did a decent job today but we will still have to improve going forward. However, we advanced and that’s what is important right now. When we lost 1:2 away at Hibernians it definitely put the pressure on us at home but I don’t think that this club is as weak as people thought they were.
When you play away and we didn’t know that much about the Maltese side it was difficult because they played with a lot of passion. When you play at home it’s a different story but we didn’t have any room for mistakes. They have a number of good players and we’re happy that we accomplished what we set out to do. Remember we are still getting into match shape and that this was only our second official match. Next game you’ll see an even better team.”
Ben Haim also talked about Maccabi’s upcoming opponent Viktoria Plzen.
“We’ve heard about Viktoria Plzen but we don’t know much about them. Our total focus was on defeating Hibernians and on nothing else. Now we will have to get ready and prepare for the next set of matches. This week we will begin to learn about the club and come to the game next week completely focused.”
Eran Zahavi who played for the first time this year and scored a pair of goals was very happy: “We advanced and did it at home but we shouldn’t forget that this was only our second official match of the year and as time goes by we will look even better. I love being on the pitch especially when we win. This was my first official game as captain of the club and it’s my job to help out the players on the team and I’m happy that I did so.”
Yuval Shpungin who grew up in the Maccabi youth system was also in the starting lineup for the 5:1 victory over Hibernians and he discussed the pair of games, his personal feelings and the match next Tuesday: “This was not an easy game. We came into the match with a bad result from last week in Malta which put us at a disadvantage. At the end of the day we did what we needed to at Bloomfield to advance to the next round. All of the players would like to be in the starting lineup and give as much as they can to the team and I’m happy I was able to do so. Any time that I’ll be playing I will give my best. It’s a new year with a new coach and we are all starting from zero. I’m doing everything that I can to show the coach that I belong on the pitch.”
The defender continued saying: “It’s only the beginning of the year and we will have to keep improving. I’m happy that we moved on, we will look at what we need to work on and move forward to the next set of matches. I’m not going to get involved in if we should bring in new players or not. This team won a Treble last season and we have to do the best that we can. I always do what I can to help the club and of course it helped that I can play next to central defender Tal Ben Haim with whom I’ve played with on the Israel National Team. It’s no question that Bloomfield is a huge help to us as it gives us a lot of energy and I’m happy that we won the match and made all of our supporters happy.”
Next week’s match against Viktoria Plzen won’t be easy and Shpungin knows that there is a lot of hard work ahead for the squad. “I don’t know what formation we will use against Plzen and that’s the job of the coaching staff to decide. We will do our best to stop them. Last year we played with four defenders so this of course is something we are comfortable with. We’re very optimistic, we believe in ourselves and we’ll keep working on what needs to be fixed.”
Winger Tal Ben Chaim summed up his play last night as he scored a goal and drew a penalty at Bloomfield Stadium:
“It was fun to come back and play at Bloomfield after the break. The fans and the atmosphere really helped us during the tough minutes we had during the match and the supporters had a big part in helping us advance. We’re happy that we were able to do so. This is my third year with the club and we have a terrific team and play especially well at Bloomfield. Hopefully, we will be able to do the same away from home.”
Ben Chaim also talked about the thought that Hibernians were a weak club: “They may have been from Malta but they surprised us for the good. They are an excellent team with players that could easily play in the Israeli league. It’s not right to say that the gap is very big between us and them. However, we were embarrassed last week by a team that we should have never lost too. Yesterday we saw how important it is for us to go far in Europe. It wasn’t easy but we achieved our goal.”
Viktoria Plzen, the club that Maccabi will have to face next week at Bloomfield Stadium is very familiar to Ben Chaim: “I played against Plzen in the past and they are a very good club that plays together as a team without any stars. We’ll have to work very hard in order to get a good result that will help us when we play away the following week in the Czech Republic.”