Soccer Commentary: Maccabi Tel Aviv taking group-stage baby steps

Despite no goals or points in three straight losses, yellow-and-blue starting to show better form.

Maccabi Tel Aviv forward Tal Ben- Haim netted his team’s winner in last night’s 1-0 victory over Hapoel Haifa in the Toto Cup semifinals. (photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Maccabi Tel Aviv forward Tal Ben- Haim netted his team’s winner in last night’s 1-0 victory over Hapoel Haifa in the Toto Cup semifinals.
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
 Despite still searching for its first goal and point in Champions League Group G, Maccabi Tel Aviv coach Slavisa Jokanovic feels his team is showing progress with every match and he still believes the yellow-and-blue can make its mark among Europe’s best.
Maccabi sits bottom of the group with zero points and a 0-8 goal difference after suffering a 2-0 defeat at Porto in Portugal on Tuesday.
The three-time reigning Israeli champ showed far more initiative against Porto than it did in the losses to Chelsea (4-0) and Dynamo Kiev (2-0), but it had nothing to show for its efforts after the host clinched the win with two goals in five first-half minutes.
Maccabi still has three more matches to play, but has every reason to be worried about joining the 2009/10 Maccabi Haifa as the only sides in the history of the competition to end the group stage without picking up a point or scoring a goal.
Maccabi is the fifth Israeli side to reach the Champions League group stage, with Maccabi Haifa (2009/10), Hapoel Tel Aviv (2010/11) and Maccabi in 2004/05, as well as this season, all losing their first three games.
Only the 2002/03 Maccabi Haifa collected points in any of its first three contests.
Maccabi’s next chance to get off the mark in Group G will also be against Porto at Haifa Stadium in two weeks. Three weeks later, Tel Aviv hosts Chelsea before ending its campaign in Kiev on December 9.
When asked on Tuesday how many points he believes Maccabi will collect in the second half of its campaign, Jokanovic said nine, without blinking.
Surely after seeing the gaps in quality between his side and the rest of the group, the Serbian doesn’t truly believe that the yellow- and-blue will win its next three games.
However, he made his point by stressing that Maccabi will continue to enter every match believing it is capable of registering an upset.
“We can’t be happy if we don’t win. We played better than the last two matches but it wasn’t enough,” said Jokanovic.
“The team played a very organized game and didn’t give our opponent many chances. During parts of the match we were stronger and more dangerous, but we paid a heavy price for our mistakes.
“It’s a learning process,” added the Serb.
“We did a great job today and we were very close to our maximum. This isn’t the end for us. We are in a big competition and we have big games in front of us. We will try to continue and progress and I believe we can do better in the future.”
After he scored seven goals in Champions League qualifying, Maccabi is looking to Eran Zahavi to break its barren spell in the group stage, hopefully already in two weeks’ time.
“I knew that the gaps are big from my experience in the group stage with Hapoel Tel Aviv,” said Zahavi, who was at Hapoel in 2010/11. “At Hapoel we also lost our first three matches, but improved with every game and ended up picking up points and scoring goals. I hope it will be the same this time.”