A stoppage-time penalty miss by Barak Itzhaki saw Maccabi Tel Aviv drop to a
dejecting 0-0 draw against APOEL Nicosia in its Europa League Group F opener at
Bloomfield Stadium on Thursday night.
Maccabi controlled the possession
from the start of the match, but created very few chances in front of goal, with
Nicosia more than happy to settle for a stalemate.
However, it seemed
that the yellow-and-blue would nevertheless get its campaign off to a winning
start when Eran Zahavi was brought down in the box deep into stoppage
After an impressive start to the season, Itzhaki stepped up to take
the crucial spot kick, but his powerful effort was denied by goalkeeper Urko
Pardo in the 95th minute, seconds before the final whistle.
plenty of previous experience versus Cypriot sides after being exiled to the
Mediterranean island by Maccabi last summer.
The 28-year-old striker was
sent out on loan to Anorthosis Famagusta last season after Maccabi deemed him to
be a negative influence on the squad. He was brought back to Israel after a
comeback season in Cyprus, and despite not starting on Thursday, had an ideal
opportunity to give Tel Aviv all three points, only to see his penalty saved in
the dying moments.
APOEL ‘keeper Pardo had very little else to do
throughout the night, with Maccabi failing to register a single shot on target
in the first half.
He was forced into a save by Tal Ben-Haim in the 76th
minute before denying Itzhaki to ensure his team would return home with a point
after only being handed a place in the group stage thanks to Fenerbahce SK’s
exclusion from UEFA competitions.
Nicosia was knocked out by Zulte
Waregem of Belgium in the playoffs, but won a lottery to play in the group stage
following Fenerbahce’s ban.
“Itzhaki is one of several players on our
team who has the character needed to take such a penalty so I have no problem
with the miss,” said Maccabi coach Paulo Sousa. “APOEL sat back and closed us
down and we found it very difficult to break them down. We had our chances but
we missed them and that can happen.”
Also in Group F on Thursday,
Eintracht Frankfurt defeated Bordeaux 3-0.
Maccabi Haifa hosted AZ
Alkmaar in Group L in a match which ended after press time.
Thursday, Guy Luzon’s amazing run at Standard Liege came to an end, with his
Belgian side losing 2-1 at home to Danish club Esbjerg in the Europa League. The
Israeli coach had won all 13 of his previous matches since joining Liege,
triumphing in seven of seven league games as well as in all six of the team’s
Europa League qualifiers.
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