Maccabi Tel Aviv defender Carlos Garcia (left) and Hapoel Beersheba striker Ben Sahar battle for the ball during last night’s 0-0 draw at Bloomfield Stadium..
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Maccabi Tel Aviv remains in the hunt for a place in the Europa League Round of 32, but may end up looking back at Thursday’s 0-0 draw against AZ Alkmaar as the result that ultimately cost it a place in the knockout stage.
After suffering defeats to Zenit Saint Petersburg and Dundalk of Ireland in its first two group stage matches, Maccabi beat Alkmaar 2-1 on the road to revitalize its campaign.
Another victory over the Dutch side in Netanya on Thursday would have put the yellowand- blue in the driving seat to finish Group D in second place.
But after suffering two straight losses in the Premier League without scoring, Maccabi frustratingly failed to find the back of the net yet again on Thursday.
The draw took Maccabi to four points, tied with Dundalk in second place. The Irish side lost 2-1 to Zenit, which won its fourth consecutive game, sealing first place in the group. AZ has two points.
Maccabi visits Zenit in Russia in three weeks and completes its group games when it welcomes Dundalk on December 8.
“I believe this is still a very important point,” said Maccabi coach Shota Arveladze. “Scoring is the most difficult thing in football, but we created a lot of chances. We are going through hard weeks and I have to give credit to the boys for fighting until the last minute.”
Arveladze opted for a more attacking formation than usual and Maccabi dominated the early stages. After being left out of the lineup for Sunday’s match against Hapoel Beersheba, winger Tal Ben-Haim returned to the starting 11 and he registered Maccabi’s first chances in the 10th minute.
Ben-Haim had two bites at the cherry, but both his attempts were blocked. Less than two minutes later, striker Vidar Orn Kjartansson found himself with only goalkeeper Sergio Rochet to beat, but he couldn’t even place his shot on target.
Tel Aviv’s only other real opportunity of the first half arrived seven minutes from the break when Eli Dasa’s shot from the edge of the area went just wide.
The yellow-and-blue remained in control, but couldn’t break down AZ and the visitors grew more comfortable as the contest progressed.
AZ was centimeters away from the winner in the 67th minute, with Robert Muhren’s free kick flying centimeters wide.
Both team’s pushed forward in search of a winner, but their inaccuracy in the final third meant there were few clear-cut chances.
Maccabi was left with mixed emotions when the final whistle arrived, knowing it picked up a valuable point, but also dropped two points that would have left it within touching distance of a place in the next stage.
Later Thursday, Hapoel Beersheba faced Sparta Prague in Group K action.
Thursday’s results: Europa League group stage: Maccabi Tel Aviv 0, AZ Alkmaar 0; Zenit St. Petersburg 2, Dundalk 1; Fenerbahce 2, Manchester United 1; Sparta Prague vs Hapoel Beersheba (late); Southampton vs Inter Milan (late).