Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Eran Zahavi .
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Despite its struggles in Europe so far this season, Maccabi Tel Aviv remains confident of overturning the 2-1 deficit against Viktoria Plzen in the Czech Republic on Wednesday night and advancing to the Champions League playoff round.
Maccabi’s hopes of reaching the group stage for the second time in club history, and the first since the 2004/05 season, suffered a major blow with last week’s home defeat to the Czechs. Maccabi was outplayed for large periods, with Plzen scoring twice in five first-half minutes before Barak Itzhaki’s goal in the 79th minute handed the yellow-and-blue a lifeline ahead of the second leg.
However, Maccabi will need to score at least two goals and win on the road to progress to the final playoff round, which looks to be an all but impossible mission should the team not significantly improve on the form it has displayed so far this season.
Plzen, which is aiming to reach the group stage for the third time in five years, was in cruise control for much of the first leg and is brimming with confidence entering the return leg knowing it only requires a draw to advance.
“We have to be positive and make sure we are ready so we can have a chance to go though to the next round,” said Maccabi coach Slavisa Jokanovic.
“Viktoria Plzen was good in the first leg, but we gave them many gifts and we have a chance to win just as they do in the next game. We lost a chance at home against them but we have to believe that we can win and push ahead 120 percent.”
Despite claiming a 5-1 win over Hibernians of Malta in the second leg of the Champions League second qualifying round two weeks ago, the yellowand- blue was humbled by the semi-professional side before triumphing 6-3 on aggregate. It also gave its fans little reason for optimism with its display in the first leg against Plzen.
“We played well at the beginning but we made mistakes.
In this level of the competition when you make mistakes you pay a heavy price,” said Jokanovic. “We spoke about making sure to not let Plzen catch us off guard, but this was a team breakdown. We have players that don’t do enough to follow the plan that was laid out before the match.
Fortunately, we scored a goal and they didn’t bury their chance for a third goal, so we are still in it. We have to be prepared for anything and everything.”
Plzen captain David Limbersky insisted the Czechs are not getting carried away.
“It was a tough match and Maccabi confirmed what we already knew. They are a physically well-equipped team with a good offense,” he told Maccabi’s website. “The weather in Tel Aviv was not ideal for us but I’m glad we managed to win. We know we are at halftime and the second match will be very hard.
“Naturally, victory is extremely important at this stage, particularly on the opponent’s pitch. Maccabi has to score at least two goals, but we also want to play offensively because it is our football philosophy.”
After coming on as substitutes and scoring in the 3-1 Toto Cup win over Hapoel Tel Aviv on Saturday, Eran Zahavi, Tal Ben-Haim and Nosa Igiebor are expected to return to the starting lineup on Wednesday.
“We learned a number of things from the first game including their strengths and weaknesses,” said midfielder Dor Peretz. “In the second leg, you’ll see that we worked very hard on a bunch of those items.”