Maccabi Tel Aviv defeated Gent 3-1 thanks to an Eran Zahavi brace to clinch first place in their UEFA Conference League group and advance to the Round of 16 of the competition. Gaby Kanichowsky opened the scoring early on when he pounced on a Dor Peretz rebound to give the yellow-and-blue a 1-0 lead in the 9th minute.
Eran Zahavi scored his first of the game off a Kanichowsky ball to give Robbie Keane’s squad a 2-0 lead by halftime. However, Julien De Sant pulled a goal back for the Belgians but Zahavi then scored his second of the game off a Dan Bitton through ball to take the win. The victory handed the yellow-and-blue first place in Group B as they leapfrogged the Belgian side into the top spot and avoided having to play in the Knockout Round Playoff.
“The players are very happy and this was a great achievement for the club and the players,” Maccabi coach Robbie Keane said. “I was very pleased with the performance. This is how I like to play, attack and take chances. I am very happy that we won the game which is most pleasing to me. we stuck to the plan and executed it very well.”
Eran Zahavi who is tied atop the goal scoring leaders list in the Conference League with five markers reflected on the game, “We played an excellent game, were compact, moved the ball with confidence and pressed really well. I am really proud of our team today. We made history as this is the first time Maccabi finished top of a group stage as all the guys deserve credit from the coaching staff to the kitmen and the last club employee. We dedicate this victory to the entire Israeli nation as well as the IDF soldiers fighting for us in Gaza right now. I just hope that all the hostages return and we would like to strengthen them from here.”
Maccabi Haifa punched their ticket to the Conference League with a 2-1 win over Panathinaikos to finish in third place in their Europa League group. Dean David gave the Greens a 1-0 lead as Tjaron Chery doubled the advantage in the second half. Fotis Ioannidis pulled a goal back for the hosts but it was too little too late as Messay Dego’s team took the win.
Haifa which which featured in Group F ended their Europa League campaign in third place behind Villarreal and Rennes but in front of Panathinaikos which allowed them to advance to the Conference League Knockout Round where they will be an unseeded to as they will look to punch their ticket to the Round of 16.
“Wow, what incredible game,” Dego said following the victory. “On the holiday of Chanukah, the Maccabees are obligated to win and we won one of the biggest games in the organization’s history. This was a heroic match and everyone gave their heart. I told the guys before the game that Maccabi Haifa had never won a European group stage game on the road and that it was time to make history – and that’s exactly what we did.”
Ram Gershon added, “This was so exciting. We know what state our country is in and in the name of all of the players we want to dedicate this win to the entire nation, not just the Maccabi Haifa fans. This win is for all of you, for the soldiers, for the families of the hostages and I hope that we were able to make a lot of people back in Israel happy.”