Chelsea beats Maccabi Tel Aviv 4-0 in Champions League Group G encounter, September 16, 2015.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
After the humbling defeat at Chelsea in its group stage opener, Maccabi Tel Aviv wants to first and foremost prove that it truly belongs in the Champions League when it hosts Dynamo Kiev at Haifa Stadium on Tuesday night.
The three-time reigning Israeli champion was thoroughly outplayed in the 4-0 loss to Chelsea in London two weeks ago, looking for large periods like a team that was in over its head in European soccer’s showcase club competition.
Nevertheless, Maccabi players remained confident that it was a combination of nerves and of the level of the opponent that resulted in the apt showing in Stamford Bridge and that the rest of the campaign will look very different.
The home match against Kiev was regarded as Maccabi’s best opportunity to register a win from the moment the draw was made and the yellow-and-blue knows it will not have a better chance to kick-start its campaign.
“The Chelsea game was a wake-up call and we must be ready for this competition,” said Maccabi coach Slavisa Jokanovic. “I expect we can be more competitive and more concentrated, especially more than we were in Stamford Bridge. I expect we can register a better result than in the game against Chelsea.”
After scoring in seven consecutive matches over all competitions, including five goals in Maccabi’s final three Champions League qualifiers, captain Eran Zahavi is experiencing a barren spell by his standards. The midfielder has gone four straight games without finding the back of the net, with his last goal coming back in August.
“There is no reason to make a tragedy out of the fact that I haven’t scored in a few matches,” said Zahavi. “That is not my goal. My goal is to help the team as much as possible.
“We want to prove that we have what it takes to compete at this level,” added Zahavi. “We have a lot of respect for them, but of course we want to win the match.”
Kiev drew 2-2 with Porto in its group stage opener, with Vitaliy Buyalskiy netting the equalizer for the Ukrainians in the 89th minute.
Maccabi and Dynamo met in the Europa League group stage in 2011, with their matches ending in 3-3 and 1-1 draws.
Andriy Yarmolenko is Kiev’s biggest star and is set to start after missing the game against Porto through illness. The club is guided by coach Serhiy Rebrov, who helped it claim its first domestic championship in six years last season.
Kiev currently leads the Ukrainian league standings with 25 points from a possible 27.
Meanwhile, in the other Group G encounter, Porto goalkeeper Iker Casillas is set to break the Champions League appearance record when Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho makes his latest return to the Estadio do Dragao on Tuesday.
The pair had a difficult relationship during Mourinho’s three years at Real Madrid, but after the Portuguese left, Casillas captained the team to victory over neighbors Atletico Madrid in the 2014 final, earning his third winner’s medal.
He played his 151st match in the competition as Porto, who he joined in July, drew at Kiev. That equaled the record set by former Barcelona midfielder Xavi, and Casillas is on the verge of breaking it.