Maccabi Tel Aviv opens campaign strongly

Donis victorious in sideline debut for yellow-and-blue, which dispatches Riga in 1st qualifying round

MACCABI TEL AVIV players celebrate their second goal in Wednesday night’s 2-0 conquest of Riga FC in Champions League qualifying at Bloomfield Stadium (photo credit: DOV HALICKMAN PHOTOGRAPHY)
MACCABI TEL AVIV players celebrate their second goal in Wednesday night’s 2-0 conquest of Riga FC in Champions League qualifying at Bloomfield Stadium
Maccabi Tel Aviv defeated Riga FC 2-0 on Wednesday night at Bloomfield Stadium to advance to Champions League second-round qualifying.
Striker Nick Blackman was the man of the match with a pair of second-half goals, both scored on penalties. Next up for Maccabi will be a trip to Lithuanian side Suduva, which ironically knocked the club out of Europa League qualifying last season.
The yellow-and-blue dominated play throughout the first half with stellar performances by youngsters Eylon Almog and Eduardo Guerrero along with quality chances from the veteran Blackman, but new head coach Giorgos Donis’s squad couldn’t find the back of the net.
The second half saw Maccabi continue to maintain possession and become more compact as Avi Rikan was pulled down in the area to draw the first penalty while substitute Itay Shechter was tripped up late in the game, which allowed Blackman to salt away the victory.
“I’m very happy with the win and to be here in Israel,” said Donis following his debut on the Maccabi sidelines. “We have to be very focused near the goal and I believe that the next time we will score without penalties. Some players tired after 70 minutes and we have to think about our conditioning. We have a big target and that is to bring the players to the limits and above their limits. Now it’s on to the next game and I hope we will have a good run.”
The star of the show, Blackman, was all smiles after the victory.
“We’re happy with the win, but we tired near the end. We have to continue playing well and while last season was a bit difficult for me, hopefully this campaign will be better for me personally.”
After a ho-hum 10 minutes of primarily midfield play, Maccabi began controlling the pace of play as Blackman moved into the box, but his chance was stymied by the Riga defense.
A minute later, Eitan Tibi sent a smart cross field pass to Eylon Almog, but his low liner just skipped by the far post.
Eduardo Guerrero also tried his luck from just outside of the box, but his scorcher missed the target, while at the other end Antonijis Cernomordijs had a shot blocked to safety and went out for a corner.
Blackman’s 23rd-minute attempt just missed the target, going wide right of the Riga goal, and Dor Peretz’s chance was parried by the ’keeper Roberts Ozols to safety as Maccabi continued to threaten.
Almog came super close to scoring for the yellow-and-blue, but his header went off the left post while a shot by Rikan also went off the woodwork soon thereafter as the game remained goalless.
The Riga goal continued to serve as a shooting gallery for Maccabi as Blackman had a prime chance in the box, but his ball deflected off of a defender and Almog’s strike flew by the right post and out as the half ended deadlocked at 0-0.
Donis made a halftime substitute, bringing on Dan Bitton to make his yellow-and-blue debut in favor of an impressive Guerrero, who had picked up a yellow card late in the first half.
The new recruit wasted no time in trying to give the host side a lead, but both chances came up short. Rikan’s 52nd-minute opportunity just missed the target while Blackman’s chance three minutes later was taken care of by Ozols.
Finally, Maccabi broke the ice via a Blackman penalty in the 58th to give the yellow-and-blue a 1-0 lead after Rikan was pulled down in the box by Ritvars Rugins. Riga made a pair of changes to freshen up its attack as Felipe Brisola’s chance was collected by Maccabi ’keeper Daniel Tenenbaum.
Peretz’s 72nd-minute shot from the top of the box went right off of the bar while at the other end Tenenbaum came up big when he stopped a smart Vladislavs Fjodorovs free kick.
Tal Ben Chaim was introduced for Almog in the 82nd minute and Itay Shechter came on for Dor Peretz as Donis made wholesale changes on the pitch.
Shecter immediately had a chance to the left of Ozols, but the netminder made the save. However, minutes later Herdi Prenga tripped up Shechter in the box, allowing Blackman to score his second penalty of the contest and wrap up the tidy triumph for Maccabi to earn a visit to Suduva in Lithuania.