Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Eran Zahavi.
(photo credit: ASAF KLIGER)
The only real positive for Maccabi Tel Aviv entering the second half of its Champions League Group G campaign is that matters can only improve from here.
Maccabi is still without a goal or a point entering Wednesday’s clash with Porto at Haifa Stadium, sitting in last place in the group with a 0-8 goal difference. Tel Aviv suffered a 2-0 loss at Porto two weeks ago, but at least it wasn’t outplayed the way it was in the 2-0 home defeat to Dynamo Kiev three weeks previously and in the 4-0 loss to Chelsea in its group opener at Stamford Bridge.
The three-time reigning Israeli champion still has three more matches to play, but has every reason to be worried about joining the 2009/10 Maccabi Haifa as the only sides in the history of the competition to end the group stage without picking up a point or scoring a goal.
Maccabi is the fifth Israeli side to reach the Champions League group stage, with Maccabi Haifa (2009/10), Hapoel Tel Aviv (2010/11) and Maccabi in 2004/05, as well as this season, all losing their first three games. Only the 2002/03 Maccabi Haifa collected points in any of the first three contests.
Maccabi hosts Chelsea in three weeks before ending its campaign in Kiev on December 9.
“I’m anticipating our best performance yet and looking for nothing less than a win,” said Maccabi coach Slavisa Jokanovic on Tuesday.
“For many of our players, taking on teams like this is a new experience – you pay for every mistake. We want to show our supporters who we are and give something back to them. We will try to be focused and clinical. Our situation means we can’t afford not to take our chances.”
Porto is top of the group with seven points after also beating Chelsea at home, but coach Julen Lopetegui has no intention of taking Maccabi lightly.
“My main concern is reaching the next round and tomorrow we can take a big step towards it,” said the Spaniard. “We have a lot of respect for Maccabi Tel Aviv, they are a good team with good players and will have a lot of fans behind them. We will have to be at our best.”
Maccabi is looking to star Eran Zahavi to break its scoring drought, with the prolific midfielder scoring seven goals in the qualifying rounds, but none in the competition since. Zahavi is also the last player to score a goal for an Israeli team in the group stage, netting Hapoel Tel Aviv’s second goal in the 2-2 draw at Lyon on December 7, 2010.
“The challenge that I have is that our opponent is better than us. When we were winning games no one asked if my position on the field was a problem,” said Zahavi. “At the end of the day the coach will decide where I’ll play and I’ll do whatever I have to do in order to help my team. I didn’t think that the Champions League would be difficult, I was sure that it would be so.
“Just like the last time when I played in the competition it was hard to pick up points in the first round of matches.
But just like the last time, the more we’ll play the better we will do and the results will come. It’s not fun to begin with three losses but we knew that this was a possibility since we are playing teams that are better than us.
“We’re not coming into the game with a defeatist approach,” added Zahavi, “but with an extremely positive one in order to give the best we can and to pick up some points.”