Maccabi Tel Aviv hopes to finish in style

With no points entering final group-stage clash, yellow-and-blue sets sights on upset in Kiev.

Maccabi Tel Aviv vs Dynamo Kiev (photo credit: ERAN LUF)
Maccabi Tel Aviv vs Dynamo Kiev
(photo credit: ERAN LUF)
Maccabi Tel Aviv enters Wednesday’s final Champions League group match at Dynamo Kiev with only pride to play for.
The three-time reigning Israeli champion has lost all five of its matches in Group G by a humbling combined goal difference of 1-15 and is desperate to at least pick up one point in Ukraine.
Eran Zahavi’s penalty in the 75th minute of the 3-1 loss to Porto at Haifa Stadium last month ensured the 2009/10 Maccabi Haifa will remain the only side in the history of the competition to end the group stage without picking up a point or scoring a goal.
However, Maccabi, which is only the fifth Israeli team to reach the Champions League group stage, will join that Haifa squad as the only local sides to fail to collect a single point in an entire campaign should it lose once more in Kiev.
“I won’t be disappointed if we don’t pick up any points in Europe,” insisted Maccabi coach Slavisa Jokanovic following his side’s disappointing 0-0 draw against Hapoel Kfar Saba on Saturday. “There may be some people around the club that will be, but we go into the Kiev match to try to win. I play to win every game. What’s important is our preparation for the game as memories are in the past.”
The match will be played in front of empty stands, with the UEFA Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body ordering Dynamo to play its next two home European games without fans due to racist behavior and crowd disturbances caused by the supporters in the encounter with Chelsea in October.
Maccabi’s mission is made all the more complicated as Kiev has everything to play for, aiming to reach the last 16 for the first time in 16 years.
Kiev, which thrashed Tel Aviv in a 2-0 win in Haifa back September, will book its place in the knockout rounds with a victory. Anything less than a win and Dynamo will finish third and transfer to the Europa League.
Kiev has eight points from five matches, with Chelsea and Porto, who meet at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, on 10 points each.
Mourinho cool under fire Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, meanwhile, is confident he retains the support of the club’s owner Roman Abramovich on the eve of a match which could determine his future.
At a lively news conference on Tuesday, the under-pressure Mourinho was in defiant, yet good-natured, mood than of late, insisting that he was an “optimist” and that his struggles this season had made him a better manager.
Mourinho was asked whether if he failed to make the knockout stages – a fate which could befall Chelsea if it does not beat his old side Porto – he still expected to be manager for Monday’s Premier League match against leader Leicester City.
“There are no ifs,” he told his questioner.
“You are a pessimist - I am an optimist.”
Asked why he was confident of the support of chairman Abramovich, an owner with a penchant for quickly disposing of under-achieving managers, Mourinho said: “Because I think I did lots of good things for this club for the owner to know the quality I have.
“He believed in me twice. One, when he brought me back to the club, and the second time when he gave me a new fouryear contract.
“I don’t think the owner is a person to change with the wind. I know this wind is really strong because the results in the Premier League are really bad, but I think the owner knows what I give to the club and he believes I am the right man to do the job.”
Reuters contributed to this report.