Group stage an eye-opening experience for Maccabi

“What we wanted was to come out of the game tonight with a chance to qualify,” said Gunners manager Arsene Wenger. “How big the chance is? I don’t know, but I believe we can do it,” he added.

November 26, 2015 06:47
3 minute read.
Maccabi Tel Aviv midfielder Eran Zahavi scored his 100th goal in a 3-0 win at Hapoel Haifa

Maccabi Tel Aviv midfielder Eran Zahavi scored his 100th Premier League goal in a 3-0 win at Hapoel Haifa. (photo credit: ERAN LUF)


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Maccabi Tel Aviv sporting director Jordi Cruyff said the team’s Champions League experience “opened his eyes” regarding the magnitude of the gaps between Israeli soccer and Europe’s best.

The three-time defending Israeli champion dropped to its fifth defeat in five matches on Tuesday night, losing 4-0 to Chelsea at Haifa Stadium, taking its combined goal difference to a humbling 1-15.

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Maccabi caps its campaign with a visit to Dynamo Kiev in two weeks, but Cruyff has already set his sights on what needs to be done to ensure the team can give the continent’s top sides a real run for their money.

“I think the lesson that I, as well as the players, need to take from our performance in the Champions League is that if we want to play here we need to improve,” said Cruyff.

“The Champions League campaign opened the eyes of all the players, as well as mine, that if we want to be there we need to adapt. This is a positive lesson we should take from this experience.”

Beaming Messi back playing like he was never away Barcelona kept winning during Lionel Messi’s injury absence, but the fans were still clearly delighted to have him back on Tuesday and he rewarded their patience with a signature performance against AS Roma.

The Argentina forward, making his first start since he damaged a knee at the end of September, played as if he had never been away in the holder’s 6-1 Champions League Group E drubbing of the Italian side at the Nou Camp, netting a double and generally running the show.

The familiar chants of “Messi! Messi! Messi!” rang out around the giant stadium and the beaming smile on his face, which shows he is back enjoying what he does best, is an ominous sign for Barca’s rivals.

The victory ensured Barca went through to the last 16 as the section winner and the Catalans have negotiated the group stage of Europe’s elite club competition for a 12th consecutive season.

The demolition of Roma followed hard on the heels of the 4-0 thrashing of arch-rival Real Madrid in La Liga, when Messi made his return from injury for the last 30 minutes, and on current form Barca appears unstoppable as it seeks to defend the treble of titles it won last season.

Luis Suarez and Neymar kept Barca ticking over while Messi was sidelined and the four-time World Player of the Year said the squad had proved they did not rely too heavily on his talents.

“We have never said that ourselves and it has been proved,” Messi said. “I had a bad time not being on the pitch, but I enjoyed watching what my teammates did in each game,” added the 28-year-old.”

Arsenal keeps its hopes alive In other action, Arsenal kept afloat its dreams of reaching the last 16 for a 16th straight season when it beat Dinamo Zagreb 3-0, as Bayern Munich did the Gunners a favor by thrashing Olympiakos Piraeus in Group F.

Arsenal ripped Dinamo apart in the first half, taking a grip with two goals in four minutes from Mesut Ozil in the 29th and Alexis Sanchez who scored in the 33rd before adding a third in the 69th.

The results mean that, while Bayern is through to the knockout round, Arsenal, whose chances looked slim after defeats by Dinamo, Olympiakos and Bayern, will join it if it beats Olympiakos by two clear goals in Greece on December 9.

“What we wanted was to come out of the game tonight with a chance to qualify,” said Gunners manager Arsene Wenger. “How big the chance is? I don’t know, but I believe we can do it,” he added.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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