After spending a night in Barcelona and training at the famed club’s training grounds, Maccabi Tel Aviv arrived in Andorra yesterday ahead of tonight’s Champions League second qualifying-round first leg against Santa Coloma.
(photo credit: MACCABI TEL AVIV WEBSITE)
It is a defeat that will forever live in the memory of the club.
It may not have had any long-term effects, but Maccabi Tel Aviv’s 1-0 loss to the amateurs of Santa Coloma of Andorra in the first leg of the UEFA Cup first qualifying round in the 2007/08 season will always remain one of the most embarrassing results recorded by an Israeli side in European competition.
Maccabi bounced back to win the second leg 4-0 and advance with ease, but the humbling loss was never forgotten.
The yellow-and-blue returns to the sight of arguably its most humiliating defeat on Tuesday night, desperate to avoid a repeat of the scene from seven years ago.
It is all but a forgone conclusion that Maccabi will overcome Santa Coloma in the Champions League second qualifying round. However, Tel Aviv will want to do so in emphatic fashion, starting with Tuesday’s first leg in Andorra.
Maccabi arrived in the small mountainous principality in the Pyrenees on the French-Spanish border on Monday after making the three hour bus journey from Barcelona.
The first leg of the tie against the Andorrans was scheduled to take place at Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv, but due to the ongoing rocket fire from Gaza, Maccabi and Santa Coloma agreed to exchange venues for the home and away legs.
UEFA has also already requested that Maccabi arrange an alternative venue for the second leg, which is scheduled to be played next Tuesday, should there be no improvement in the security situation in Israel.
Maccabi has already inquired about playing the game in Nicosia, Cyprus where Israeli sides hosted matches during the Second Intifada.
Santa Coloma won its first ever tie in European competition last week to reach the second qualifying round thanks to a 95th-minute goal by goalkeeper Eloy Casals.
FC Banants of Armenia still won the second leg 3-2, but Casals’s strike ensured the Andorrans advanced on away goals, tying the aggregate score at 3-3 after Santa Coloma claimed a 1-0 victory at home.
The Andorran champion’s only previous win in continental competition came against Maccabi.
Despite the triumph over Banants, Santa Coloma should pose little threat to Maccabi, although Tel Aviv coach Oscar Garcia did his best to build up the Andorrans.
“They have a lot of Spanish players,” he explained. “Spanish players know how to compete and counter attack. We want to go through and we know we have two games to do so but we want to win there.”
Midfielder Gal Alberman admitted that having to run for shelter time and again during recent training sessions was hardly an ideal preparation for the team’s first match of the 2014/15 season.
“This isn’t the best feeling in the world,” he said. “We left our families in Israel but we are facing an important mission. We are very excited to be starting a new season and we hope to get it off on the right foot.
I have a feeling that this isn’t going to be an easy match. We are aware of how difficult it could be, but we believe in ourselves.”
Maccabi’s lineup on Tuesday will be almost identical to that of last season, with the team only making one significant signing so far this summer, bringing in Israel national team defender Yuval Spungin from Belgium club Mons.
The yellow-and-blue has also signed Ben Reichert from Hapoel Ramat Hasharon, but the 20-year-old is regarded as more of a long-term project who isn’t expected to play a major role in the upcoming season.
A new striker remains at the top of sporting director Jordi Cruyff’s list, but he has so far failed time and again to lure in his targets.
Tomer Hemed ultimately decided against a return to Israel, moving from RCD Mallorca to La Liga side UD Almeria, while Omer Damari opted to sign a contract extension at Hapoel Tel Aviv, saying he doesn’t want to play for any other club in Israel.
As a result, national team star Eden Ben-Basat has become Cruyff’s top target, but French club Toulouse is reportedly asking two million euros for the striker.