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Maccabi Tel Aviv falls 2-1 to Salzburg in Champions League Playoff first leg action

Dov Halickman Photography

Maccabi Tel Aviv fell to Salzburg 2-1 in an entertaining Champions League Playoff first leg game at Bloomfield Stadium. Playing without more than half of their usual starting lineup who were out due to contacting the coronavirus, the yellow-and-blue stunned the Austrians with an early goal by Dan Bitton. But two second half strikes by Dominik Szoboszlai and Masaya Okugawa gave Jesse Marsch’s squad a pair of away goals as the two legged tie will now head to Red Bull Arena in Salzburg for the second match which will be played next Wednesday.

The Yellow & Blue welcomed FC Red Bull Salzburg to Bloomfield Stadium for Champions League Playoff first leg action with the winner of the tie advancing to the group stages of the exclusive competition. The yellow-and-blue entered the contest without 9 players who had been diagnosed with the coronavirus including usual starters Dan Glezer, Dor Peretz, Enric Saborit, Nick Blackman, Yonatan Cohen and Avi Rikan.

Without so many mainstays Head Coach Girogos Donis was forced to play with a makeshift lineup of Daniel Tenenbaum in goal, Ben Bitton and Ofir Davidzada as defensive backs with captain Sheran Yeini, Eitan Tibi and Matan Baltaxa as central defenders. Ruslan Barsky, Eden Kartsev and Eyal Golasa manned the midfield while Dan Bitton and Eylon Almog played up front.

Salzburg who are coached by American Jesse Marsch had a full squad available at his disposal as the club looked to play in back to back seasons in the Champions League group stages. Rising stars Patson Daka and Dominik Szoboszlai along with veteran captain Andreas Ulmer featured for the visitors on a pleasant evening in Jaffa.

Salzburg began attacking early and often as Szoboszlai’s 2nd minute free kick was just parried away by an alert Tenenbaum, but seven minutes later out of nowheres Maccabi grabbed a shock lead. Eylon Almog sent a gorgeous pass from the midfield right to Dan Bitton who elegantly flicked the ball over a helpless Salzburg keeper Cican Stankovic who was way off of his line to give the hosts a 1-0 advantage.

The visitors looked to find the equalizer as they blitzed the Maccabi area but Rasmus Kristensen’s attempt was blocked by Tibi and Szoboszlai’s chance was miraculously cleared off the line by Tibi. Almog had a 19th minute opportunity for Maccabi but Stankovic made the stop while at the other end an active Szoboszlai’s free kick was caught by Temenabum.

Max Wober’s 32nd minute header off a corner missed the target while 3 minutes later Maccabi almost doubled their advantage but Eden Kartsev’s volley couldn’t find the back of the Salzburg goal. Andreas Ulmer senior a dangerous low cross through the Maccabi box just before the break, but the ball went out as Donis’s squad took a 1-0 lead into halftime.

Salzburg came out on fire to begin the second half and their efforts paid dividends almost immediately as Patson Daka cut into the box and went down after a slight Matan Baltaxa to earn his side a penalty that Szoboszlai converted to draw the Austrians even at 1-1 in the 49th minute.

Dan Bitton’s 55th minute attempt was taken care of by Stankovic while Enock Mwepu’s sharp liner was stopped by Tenenbaum. However, Salzburg found the back of the Maccabi goal juts a minute later when Masaya Okugawa finished off a nice team play to give Marsch’s team a 2-1 lead.

Salzburg continued to attack as Tenenbaum made a diving save on Kristensen’s shot as Donis made his first substitute bringing on Tal Ben Chaim in favor of Barsky. Dan Bitton had an excellent effort soon thereafter but Stankovic made the stop while Sheran Yeini was issued a yellow card after his foul on Sekou Koita.

Tenenbaum made another brilliant save off of Daka’s shot while Stankovic did the same on Dan Bittion’s liner as Maccabi hunted for the equalizer. Itay Shechter entered the fray in the 71st minute for Kartzev as the yellow-and-blue freshened up their offense.

Shechter had a brilliant opportunity to draw Maccabi even all alone in the Salzburg box, but the striker couldn’t get a proper shot off from Ben Chaim’s terrific cross. Matan Hozez came on in the 82nd minute in place of Baltaxa for one last gasp effort to tie the game up as all three of Donis’s substitutes were attackers.

Maccabi continued to press as Shechter, Bitton and Golasa all had quality chances on goal, but after a valiant effort Salzburg took the first leg 2-1 as the return match will take place next Wednesday in Austria.

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