(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Despite the team’s relative struggles so far this season, Maccabi Tel Aviv’s star midfielder Eran Zahavi is confident the yellow-and-blue can overcome Asteras of Greece on the way to a second straight appearance in the Europa League group stage.
Maccabi visits Asteras in the first leg of the playoffs on Thursday night after being knocked out in the third qualifying round of the Champions League for a second consecutive year.
The yellow-and-blue dropped to a 3-2 aggregate defeat to Slovenian champion Maribor earlier this month. Maccabi conceded a stoppage-time goal and lost 1-0 in the first leg, a setback it failed to overcome after having to host its home leg away from Israel due to the security situation.
Maccabi will also host Asteras in Larnaca, Cyprus in the return leg of the playoffs next week and Zahavi believes the lack of home-court advantage means the yellow-andblue must record a good result in Greece.
“We know this is a match which can decide our destiny in Europe,” Zahavi said ahead of the first leg. “We want to record a good result, not like in the first leg against Maribor. We are ready and are really motivated to get the job done.”
Asteras, which overcame Mainz 05 of Germany 3-2 on aggregate in the Europa League third qualifying round, has risen to become one of the top teams in Greece over recent seasons, qualifying for continental competition in each of the past three years.
Asteras’s squad is built around international players, with the Greek team comprised of seven Argentinians, two Spaniards and two Belgians among other nationalities.
“We know we are facing a good team with many Argentinian players,” said Zahavi. “However, at the moment we are more focused on our own play and on what we need to do. It is important that we score on the road.”
Zahavi claimed that Maccabi is improving with every day of training and he is also unconcerned about his lack of form so far this season.
“We are still slightly rusty in front of goal, but this is only the beginning of the season,” he explained. “I’m not worried about the criticism.
Anyone who thought I would begin this season the way I finished last season was wrong. No player does that. Judge me at the end of the season.”