Maccabi Tel Aviv striker Eden Ben-Basat.
(photo credit: MACCABI TEL AVIV WEBSITE)
Maccabi Tel Aviv faced it first real test of the new season on Tuesday night, and it failed miserably.
Despite claiming a 5-1 win over Hibernians of Malta in the second lef of the Champions League second qualifying round last week, the yellow-and-blue had little reason for optimism after struggling for large periods against the semi-professional side before recording a 6-3 victory on aggregate.
New coach Slavisa Jokanovic said he believed his side could register the required improvement ahead of a far tougher challenge against Czech champion Viktoria Plzen in the the third qualifying round, but that proved to be no more than wishful thinking on Tuesday. Maccabi was outplayed in 2-1 defeat to Plzen at Bloomfield Stadium, all but dashing the yellow-and-blue's dreams of reaching the group stage for yet another season with a second leg in the Czech Republic still to come next Wednesday.
"I can't be pleased because we suffered a very disappointing defeat," said Jokanovic. "It became very complicated for us after we conceded two cheap goals. We will have to change things for the second leg."
Joaknovic was critical of his defense and remains hopeful of making further signings ahead of the second leg.
"We made mistakes in the back, but this is the best defense I have at a the moment," the Serbian added. "They didn't do much to score twice, but at least we scored a very important goal which gives us a chance in the second leg."
Maccabi is looking to reach the group stage for the second time in club history and the first since the 2005/05 season.
Maccabi got off to a lively start, but the team's dismal defending was exposed with two goals in five first half minute, a crushing blow from which the hosts could not come back.
Frantisek Rajtoral squared the ball from the right in the 17th minute after the easily shaking off the challenge of Tal Ben-Ham and Aidin Mahmutovic was never going to miss from two meters out. Four minutes later, Vaclav Prochazka's long ball caught Maccabi's defense napping and Milan Petrzela easily beat goalkeeper Juan Pablo.
The visitors were content on sitting back in the second half and Maccabi looked helpless. However, Eran Zahavi's splendid through ball in the 79th minute allowed substitute Barak Itzhaki to cut the deficit with a delicate chip, setting up an intense final 10 minutes. Maccabi piled the pressure on Plzen ins search of an equalizer, but it was the Czechs who came closest to finding the back of the net, with Jan Kovarik hitting the crossbar in the 90th minute.
Maccabi will need to score at least two goals and win on the road next week to progress to the final playoff round, but looks to have little hope of doing so considering its display against Plzen, which is aiming to reach the group stage for the third time in five years.
The only consolation for Maccabi is the fact it will be handed a berth in the Europa League playoff should it fail to register an extremely unlikely comeback in the Czech Republic and is knocked out in the third qualifying round for a third straight year.
"We started the match well, but we then conceded two easy goals and spirits dropped." said Izhaki. "Of course we are optimistic. This is only the first half and we can do it. We saw tonight that we are are the better team."