Maccabi Tel Aviv fell to Red Bull Salzburg 2-1 late Tuesday night at Bloomfield Stadium in an entertaining Champions League Playoff first-leg duel.
Playing without more than half of its usual starters, who were out due to contracting coronavirus, the yellow-and-blue stunned the Austrians with an early goal by Dan Bitton.
But two second-half strikes by Dominik Szoboszlai and Masaya Okugawa, respectively, gave Jesse Marsch’s squad a pair of away goals as the two-legged tie will now head to Red Bull Arena in Salzburg for the second match, which will be played next Wednesday.
“I’m happy as to how we played and battled,” said Maccabi coach Giorgis Donis. “My players gave it their all and fought for every ball against a quality club like Salzburg. We began the game strong and I am satisfied, but I don’t believe that this was a penalty which ended up giving Salzburg a chance to feel more comfortable, and then the game changed. We can say that we gave a good game against a big club.”
Maccabi’s goal scorer, Bitton, was upbeat following the clash.
“I’ve got to credit all of the players who gave over 100% effort,” said the 25-year-old midfielder. “We played against an excellent club. Do I have faith ahead of the second game? I always believe that it’s possible.”
The yellow-and-blue welcomed Salzburg to Bloomfield, with the winner of the tie advancing to the group stages of Europe’s premier club competition. Maccabi entered the contest without nine players who had been diagnosed with COVID-19, including usual starters Dan Glazer, Dor Peretz, Enric Saborit, Nick Blackman, Yonatan Cohen and Avi Rikan.
Missing so many mainstays, Donis was forced to play with a makeshift lineup of Daniel Tenenbaum in goal, Ben Bitton and Ofir Davidzada as defensive backs with captain Sheran Yeini, Eitan Tibi and Matan Baltaksa as central defenders.
Ruslan Barsky, Eden Kartsev and Eyal Golasa manned the midfield while Dan Bitton and Eylon Almog played up front.
Salzburg, which is coached by American Marsch, had a full squad at his disposal as the club looks to play in back-to-back seasons in the Champions League group stages. Rising stars Patson Daka and Szoboszlai, along with veteran captain Andreas Ulmer, featured for the visitors on a pleasant evening in Jaffa.
Salzburg began attacking early and often as Szoboszlai’s second-minute free kick was just parried away by an alert Tenenbaum. However, seven minutes later – out of nowhere – Maccabi grabbed a shock lead.
Almog sent a gorgeous pass from the midfield right to Dan Bitton, who elegantly flicked the ball over helpless Salzburg ’keeper Cican Stankovic, who was way off of his line, to give the hosts a 1-0 advantage.
The visitors looked to find the equalizer as they blitzed the Maccabi area, but Rasmus Kristensen’s attempt was blocked by Tibi and Szoboszlai’s chance was miraculously cleared off the line by Tibi.
Almog had a 19th minute opportunity for Maccabi, but Stankovic made the stop, while at the other end an active Szoboszlai’s free-kick was caught by Tenenabum.
Max Wober’s 32nd-minute header off a corner missed the target, and three minutes later Maccabi almost doubled its advantage, but Eden Kartsev’s volley couldn’t find the back of the Salzburg goal.
Andreas Ulmer sent a dangerous low cross through the Maccabi box just before the break, but the ball went out as Donis’s squad took the slim lead into halftime.
Salzburg came out on fire to begin the second half and its efforts paid dividends almost immediately as Patson Daka cut into the box and went down after a slight nudge by Baltaksa to earn his side a penalty that Szoboszlai converted to draw the Austrians even at 1-1 in the 49th minute.
Dan Bitton’s 55th minute attempt was taken care of by Stankovic while Enock Mwepu’s sharp liner was stopped by Tenenbaum.
However, Salzburg found the back of the Maccabi goal just a minute later when Okugawa finished off a nice team play to give Marsch’s team a 2-1 lead.
Salzburg continued to attack as Tenenbaum made a diving save on Kristensen’s shot, and Donis made his first substitute bringing on Tal Ben Haim in favor of Barsky.
Dan Bitton had an excellent effort soon thereafter but Stankovic made the stop while Sheran Yeini was issued a yellow card after his foul on Sekou Koita.
Tenenbaum made another brilliant save off Daka’s shot while Stankovic did the same on Dan Bittion’s liner as Maccabi hunted for the equalizer.
Itay Shechter entered the fray in the 71st minute for Kartzev as the yellow-and-blue freshened up its offense.
Shechter had a brilliant opportunity to draw Maccabi even all alone in the Salzburg box, but the striker couldn’t get a proper shot off from Ben Haim’s terrific cross.
Matan Hozez came on in the 82nd minute in place of Baltaksa for one last gasp effort to tie the game up as all three of Donis’s substitutes were attackers.
Maccabi continued to press as Shechter, Bitton and Golasa all had quality chances on goal, but after a valiant effort Salzburg took the first leg 2-1 ahead of next week’s return match in Austria.