Maccabi Tel Aviv looks to exorcise the ghosts of last season and record a comeback it has achieved only twice previously in club history when it hosts NK Maribor in Larnaca, Cyprus, in the second leg of the Champions League third qualifying round on Tuesday night.
Maccabi’s Champions League dream is hanging by a thread after last week’s heartbreaking 1-0 defeat to Maribor in Slovenia. The first leg seemed to be headed for a goalless deadlock, but a defensive lapse allowed Damjan Bohar to head in Maribor’s winner four minutes into stoppage time. The result gives the Slovenians an important edge ahead of the return leg, which was moved from Bloomfield Stadium to the Antonis Papadopoulos Stadium in Cyprus due to the security situation in Israel.
Maccabi is hoping to go at least one step further than it did in the Champions League last season when it was knocked out in the third qualifying round, also losing the first leg on the road 1-0 to FC Basel before recording a 3-3 draw at Bloomfield.
A place in the playoffs will not only leave Tel Aviv within touching distance of reaching the group stage for just the second time in club history and the first since 2004, but will also ensure the club an extended European campaign.
The losers in the playoffs will automatically advance to the group stage of the Europa League.
Should Maccabi fail to overturn the deficit against Maribor on Tuesday it will be handed a place in the Europa League playoffs.
However, Oscar Garcia’s men are not interested in any consolation prize and believe they are more than capable of overcoming Maribor, despite having to play their home leg 335 kilometers away from Tel Aviv.
Over 600 fans will travel to Cyprus with the team, which will be without the injured Gal Alberman and suspended Barak Badash on Tuesday.
“I’d like to thank the fans for coming to the match. It is far from a given considering the current situation,” said defender Eitan Tibi. “We are playing our home leg on the road, but I believe in our team. We are going to win this match.”
Maccabi has played 79 matches in European competition since its first campaign in 1992/93. However, it is has only twice managed to erase a first leg defeat. The last time it did so was in the third qualifying round of the Europa League four years ago when it advanced on away goals after beating Olympiacos 1-0 at home following a 2-1 defeat in the first leg.
Maccabi also did so in the UEFA Cup first qualifying round in 2007/08, beating Santa Coloma 4-0 in the return leg after suffering a 1-0 loss.
Dan Einbinder, who could start on Tuesday in place of Alberman, said there will be no excuse should the yellow- and-blue fail to triumph against Maribor.
“Clearly it would have been easier for us had we been playing at Bloomfield, but playing in Cyprus just makes it a bigger challenge and will not be an excuse,” said Einbinder. “We are ready for the match and know what we need to do to advance to the next round. Reaching the Champions League group stage is a big challenge and a dream and we will do everything we can to achieve it.”