Maccabi Tel Aviv will head home without a precious away goal after succumbing to Basel in Switzerland 1-0. The 2nd leg will be played next Tuesday August 6th at Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv/Yafo before 14K rabid yellow & blue supporters! Maccabi will have to be at the top of their game in order to advance to the playoff round of the UEFA Champions League!
The best part about the game was that Maccabi did not lose by more than 1-0. Really. The score could and should have been 4, 5, or even 6 goals in favor of the Swiss side, but luck would have it that Mohamed Salach missed a wide open net, other players couldn’t finish proper runs and Juan Pablo was sharp when he needed to be. The second half of the match was starkly different than the first frame where Maccabi & Basel actually looked like they were on the same playing field. Maccabi showed that they could keep up with a perennial European power and that maybe, just maybe the first half was an aberration, that we got to see the real Maccabi play in half number 2. Unfortunately no one on Maccabi’s side really shined, though the insertion of Tal Ben Haim gave Maccabi a bit of a spark for the last half hour.
Take a look at the last line of “The Good” section. No one stood out. It was as if Maccabi stood back and let Basel control the tempo, flow and play of the game throughout the first half. Players such as Gal Alberman, Eran Zehavi, Barak Yitzhaki, Mahran Radi & Rada Prica were unable to very much and create offensively. Sure, Radi looked better the second half and Prica had a chance that he’ll lose sleep on, but service to the strikers was inconsistent and holding the ball was something Basel were experts at in the 1st half with Maccabi kind of sitting on a couch and watching the pressure being mounted on their club. Basel was able to send balls through the wings and then quickly distribute it throughout the middle of the field and then into the box where a very nervous Maccabi defense was parked. Sheran Yeini was twisted and turned by the lone goal of the game in which ‘keeper Juan Pablo had absolutely no chance of making a save on. Maccabi did not have any answer for the offense which Basel played and seemed a bit unprepared to say the least to deal with it. Luckily and perhaps miraculously it only cost them the Valentin Stocker mark at the 39th minute.
The Maccabi players in the first half and poor play by some of the defenders including Eytan Tibi who misjudged his timing on a high ball that Mohamed Salach was almost able to stick into the back of the net from about midfield. Maccabi played scared and it showed the first 45 minutes. That is something that manager Paulo Sousa must address in the return match at Bloomfield stadium next week. But not only that, Sousa must find a way to generate more offense be it playing Tal Ben Haim and or Dor Micha who according to many should be starting. Omri Altman had flashes in the match including a a vicious chance, but he was unable to hold onto the ball. Altman may be in a bit over his head as a 19 year old and perhaps should take a seat next match giving way to players with a bit more experience.
The Bottom Line:
The Away Goal. Maccabi must come prepared to play a full 90+ minutes and maybe even overtime and penalty kicks, which means coach Sousa has a busy week ahead of him. He will have to figure out a way to contain Basel who will be gunning for a quick strike and put Maccabi Tel Aviv in a position that they will need at least 3 goals(!) to win. That would be curtains on the Champions League and off to the playoffs of the Europa League for the Israeli Champions.
However, 3 players on the Maccabi roster have already had this scenario in prior UEFA CL qualifying action. Barak Yitzhaki, Gal ALberman & Yoav Ziv all played for Beitar Jerusalem in their 2007 campaign in which they lost the 1st leg on the road to FC København 1-0, the scored a goal in the 2nd leg sent the clubs to overtime where Marcus Allbäck took the sails out of Beitar with a 97th minute goal and sent them packing, knowing they would need to score 2 goals in the remaining 23 minutes in order to go up to the next round, almost an impossibility.
The other wild card is Mohamed Salach and if he will travel to Israel for the game in Tel Aviv. Salach, arguably the best player on the pitch last night has been put under tremendous pressure from his country not to step foot in the Holy Land and manager Yakin has said that he has other players whose heads will be in the game and would prefer to play them if he is not 100% mentally into the preparation. I think that if he refuses to make the trip and potentially costs or costs his club a chance at making it further in the Champions League, he should be banned from UEFA and even FIFA sanctioned events. What a shame as politics and blatant anti-semitism has to rear its ugly head into sports. For shame!
The away goal that Maccabi so much wanted didn’t happen and it may cost them in the return match up. Maccabi can not give up a goal to Basel at any cost or else it will be bye, bye, so long & farewell. By not scoring in Basel, Maccabi has been put at a major disadvantage going into Tel Aviv. I just hope that it won’t cost them as it did Beitar.