Maccabi Tel Aviv defeated Riga FC 2-0 to advance to Champions League second round qualifying. Striker Nick Blackman was the man of the match with a pair of second half goals, both scored on penalties. Next up for Maccabi will be a trip to Lithuanian side Suduva whom ironically knocked the club out of Europa League qualifying last season.
The yellow-and-blue dominated play throughout the first half with stellar performances by youngsters Eylon Almog and Eduardo Guerrero along with quality chances from the veteran Blackman but new head coach Giorgos Donis’s squad couldn’t find the back of the goal. The second half saw Maccabi continue to maintain possession and become more compact as Avi Rikan was pulled down in the area to draw the first penalty while substitute Itay Shechter was tripped up late in the game which allowed Blackman to salt away the victory.
“I’m very happy with the win and to be here in Israel,” said Donis following his debut on the Maccabi sidelines. “We have to be very focused near the goal and I’m a bit worried that we lost some easy balls. We tired after 70 minutes and that’s also an issue. But now it’s on to the next game and I hope we will have a good run.”
The star of the show Nick Blackman was all smiles after the victory, “We’re happy with the win but we tried near the end. We have to continue playing well and while last season was a bit difficult for me, hopefully this campaign will be better for me personally.”
After a ho-hum ten minutes of primarily midfield play, Maccabi began controlling the pace of play as Nick Blackman moved into the box but his chance was stymied by the Riga defense while a minute later Eitan Tibi sent a smart cross field pass to Eylon Almog but his low liner just skipped by the far post. Eduardo Guerrero tried his luck from just outside of the box but his scorcher missed the target while at the other end Antonijis Černomordijs had a shot blocked to safety and went out for a corner.
Blackman’s 23rd minute attempt just missed the target going wide right of the Riga goal and Dor Peretz’s chance was parried by the keeper Roberts Ozols to safety as Maccabi continued to threaten. Almog came super close to scoring for the yellow-and-blue but his header went off the left post while Avi Rikan’s shot also went off the woodwork soon thereafter as the game remained goalless in the 35th minute.
The Riga goal continued to serve as a shooting gallery for Maccabi as Blackman had a prime chance in the box but his ball deflected off of a defender and Almog’s strike flew by the right post and out as the half ended deadlocked at 0-0.
Coach Giorgos Donis made a halftime substitute bringing on Dan Bitton to make his yellow-and-blue in favor of an impressive Eduardo Guerrero who had picked up a yellow card late in the first half. The new recruit wasted no time in trying to give the hosts a lead but both chances came up short. Rikan’s 52nd minute opportunity just missed the target while Blackman’s chance three minutes later was taken care of by Ozols.
Finally, Maccabi broke the ice via a Blackman 58th minute penalty after Rikan was pulled down in the box by Ritvars Rugins to give the yellow-and-blue a 1-0 lead. Riga made a pair of substitutes to freshen up their attack as Felipe Brisola’s opportunity was collected by Maccabi keeper Daniel Tenenbaum.
Peretz’s 72nd minute shot from the top of the box went right off of the bar while at the other end Tenenbaum came up big when he stopped a smart Vladislavs Fjodorovs free kick. Tal Ben Chaim was introduced for Almog in the 82nd minute and Itay Shechter came on for Dor Peretz as Donis made wholesale changes on the pitch.
Shecter immediately had a chance to the left of Ozols but the keeper made the save. However, minutes later Herdi Prenga tripped up the aforementioned Shechter in the box allowing Blackman to score his second penalty of the contest and wrap up a tidy 2-0 win for Maccabi.