YES! Maccabi has done it! Against all odds and much criticism, they’ve advanced to the Champions League playoffs and will face European arch-nemesis Basel in just a week. With hard work, lots of effort and playing as a team, the Yellow-and-Blue were able to pull off the upset victory away from home at the Doosan Arena against Czech Champs Viktoria Plzen.
Being the visiting team with a 2:1 deficit is not an easy to overcome and that is exactly what Maccabi was up against. They knew that they had to win by score of 2:0 or by more away goals. Head Coach Slavisa Jokanovic was able to put together a brilliant game plan and was able to get all of the players to buy into his philosophy of playing a purposeful dull and scoreless first 65-70 minutes and then make the correct substitutions to take more offensive control on the pitch. From there, the chances would come and more opportunities would be created. Bingo! That’s what we got!
The players were able to do what the coach wanted and Eran Zahavi proved that he is the best Israeli footballer today. As they say, the rest is history. Zahavi was able to get a late penalty and then score a fabulous goal off of a Yuval Shpungin assist and that was it. Bye, bye, so long & farewell to Plzen. Welcome to Champions League playoffs! Welcome to Basel!
However, now is when the real work begins, especially off of the pitch. Over the past number of days, Maccabi’s Sporting Director Jordi Cruyff has put the club in a great position to go out and get the missing ingredients that may be able to put Maccabi over the top. By making budgetary moves, Cruyff along with the coaching staff potentially will be able to go out and find a way to pass the next hurdle. Eli Dasa and Shlomi Azulay have already been signed, sealed and delivered and will join the club. But who else? Well nobody knows just yet, but we do know that Cruyff will keep his cards close to his chest and I’m sure he already has a number of targets in mind.
The air of confidence that was on the plane ride over to the Czech Republic, from the coaches working with the players during the final practice to the professionalism surrounding the club, we don’t have to worry about anything. Maccabi is in great hands.
Being in Plzen last week was one of the greatest sports experiences one could ever have. The strategy unfolding on the pitch. The heart pounding moments leading up to the penalty. The late crucial go ahead goal. The last gasp save to secure the win. This is what the sports fan lives for.
But now it’s time to turn the page and get ready for the all important playoff games against Swiss powerhouse Basel, and no doubt Maccabi will be prepared for both legs, the first next week at Saint Jakob Park and the second at Bloomfield Stadium.
With the help of all of our supporters we can do this!
We are all Maccabi Tel Aviv football!