Damjan Bohar’s goal four minutes into stoppage time handed Maccabi Tel Aviv’s dreams of reaching the Champions League a painful blow on Wednesday night, giving NK Maribor a 1-0 win in the first leg of the third qualifying round in Slovenia.
The match looked to be heading to a goalless deadlock, but Bohar’s header in the final seconds of the contest gave Maribor a precious win.
New signings Eden Ben-Basat and Nosa Igiebor both made their debuts for Maccabi, which controlled the first half, but failed to find the back of the net. Roles were reversed in the second half, with Maribor dominating but not scoring, until Bohar popped up to give the Slovenians a dramatic victory.
Despite the defeat, Tel Aviv would have still been optimistic of progressing had next Tuesday’s return leg been played at Bloomfield Stadium. However, the match will take place in Larnaca, Cyprus due to the security situation in Israel, another blow to the team’s chances.
Progress to the playoff round of the Champions League will be crucial to Maccabi, and not only because it will leave the yellow-and-blue within touching distance of the group stage. A win in the third qualifying round will also ensure that Maccabi will be guaranteed a place in the Europa League group stage, even should it fall in the next round.
Maccabi coach Oscar Garcia made four changes to the lineup which faced Santa Coloma in the second leg of the second qualifying round last week, handing debuts to both Ben-Basat and Igiebor.
The two only officially completed their moves to the yellow-and-blue earlier this week, but they looked relatively sharp and helped the visitors dominate the early stages.
It took Maccabi less than two minutes to create its first chance of the match, with Eran Zahavi’s header almost catching Slovenian goalkeeper Jasmin Handanovic off-guard.
The hosts were caught out time and again by Tel Aviv’s surges forward, with Igiebor and Tal Ben-Haim using their pace to penetrate Maribor’s defense.
However, Maccabi had little to show for all its possession, with yellow-andblue ‘keeper Juan Pablo having to be alert to save Dare Vrsic’s strike from outside the box in the 15th minute.
Maccabi still registered the best chance of the half in the 28th minute, with Zahavi laying the ball off for Igiebor with a neat backheel, only for the Nigerian to fluff his shot and send it wide.
Tel Aviv was on the back foot for much of the second half, with Juan Pablo well placed to save Amir Dervisevic’s shot from distance in the 59th minute before Ben-Basat was denied by a last-ditch tackle by Marko Suler six minutes later.
Maribor’s Israeli midfielder Sintayehu Sallalich came on as a substitute in the 79th minute, but seconds later it was Maccabi which had a chance to score, with Dan Einbinder blasting the ball high above the crossbar.
Five minutes from time, Zahavi nearly scored directly from a corner kick before Bohar became a local hero and broke Maccabi hearts with his late goal.
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