Maccabi Tel Aviv jumps out to first-leg lead

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July 28, 2017 00:56

Yellow-and-blue earns 1-0 home win over Panionios • Bnei Yehuda suffers 2-0 defeat at home to Zenit.

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Maccabi Tel Aviv jumps out to first-leg lead

Maccabi Tel Aviv striker Vidar Orn Kjartansson netted his team’s only goal with this shot in last night’s 1-0 win over Panionios in Netanya in the first leg of the Europa League third qualifying round. (photo credit:DANNY MAROM)

Maccabi Tel Aviv will take a one-goal advantage into the second leg of the Europa League third qualifying round against Panionios in Greece, while Bnei Yehuda’s continental campaign is set to come to an end at the hands of Zenit St. Petersburg next week after being held a 2-0 loss at home in the first leg on Thursday night.

Maccabi was once more far from impressive, but a solo effort by Icelandic striker Vidar Orn Kjartansson in the 48th minute ensured the yellow-and-blue claimed a 1-0 victory in Netanya, its fifth straight win to begin the season.

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Maccabi is aiming to come through four qualifying rounds to reach the group stage for a second straight season, and will be confident of completing an aggregate win in Greece next Thursday.

Panionios played in Netanya without its two Iranian players, with Masoud Shojaei and Ehsan Hajsafi not traveling with the team to Israel, keeping with a long Iranian tradition by which its athletes refuse to compete against Israelis.

It is still unknown if they will take part in the second leg in Greece.

“It was a difficult game. We didn’t look fresh and didn’t control the ball and lost the ball easily,” said Maccabi coach Jordi Cruyff. “But all in all if you have a difficult game and struggle to create chances, the best thing you can do is to win 1-0.”

Cruyff handed Italian midfielder Cristian Battocchio his first start on Thursday and is hoping his team will have more new players by the playoffs, assuming it overcomes Panionios.

“It’s difficult and we just hope we have enough to make it through this round,” said Cruyff. “And if we make the next round, we hope to have some additions and look much stronger, much more compact and much more fresh.”

Maccabi’s veteran defender Tal Ben- Haim is not taking anything for granted ahead of next week.

“This is a fragile result,” he said. “We are still improving with every match and we are facing a very tough battle. We will have to be really focused to complete the job.”

Bnei Yehuda entered its third qualifying round tie with far fewer expectations.

St. Petersburg, coached by Italian Roberto Mancini, spent 44 million euro on strengthening its squad this summer, hoping to improve on last season’s disappointing third-place finish in the Russian league. Bnei Yehuda never really thought it had a real chance against Zenit, which has reached the knockout rounds of either the Champions League or Europa League in each of the past six seasons.

Last season’s State Cup holder kept the Russians at bay until the 59th minute on Thursday, when Domenico Criscito headed in the opener.

Aleksandr Kokorin’s goal in the 90th minute ended any illusion Bnei Yehuda may have had of mounting a comeback in Russia.

“I’m never pleased when my team loses, but I can be pleased with the commitment shown by the players,” said coach Yossi Abuksis. “We are not at the level of Zenit, but we hope to put on a respectable showing next week.”

Mancini was pleased his team got the job done in Petah Tikva.

“It was a difficult game because they played with 10 players behind the ball,” said the former Inter Milan and Manchester City manager.

“It was difficult to find space as they were very organized.”

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