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Maccabi Tel Aviv midfielder Maharan Radi 370.(Photo by: Asaf Kliger)
Heartbreak for Mac TA after late penalty miss
By ALLON SINAI
09/19/2013
Group opener vs APOEL Nicosia ends in goalless deadlock after striker Itzhaki falters from the spot.
A stoppage-time penalty miss by Barak Itzhaki saw Maccabi Tel Aviv drop to a dejecting 0-0 draw against APOEL Nicosia in its Europa League Group F opener at Bloomfield Stadium on Thursday night.

Maccabi controlled the possession from the start of the match, but created very few chances in front of goal, with Nicosia more than happy to settle for a stalemate.

However, it seemed that the yellow-and-blue would nevertheless get its campaign off to a winning start when Eran Zahavi was brought down in the box deep into stoppage time.

After an impressive start to the season, Itzhaki stepped up to take the crucial spot kick, but his powerful effort was denied by goalkeeper Urko Pardo in the 95th minute, seconds before the final whistle.

Itzhaki had plenty of previous experience versus Cypriot sides after being exiled to the Mediterranean island by Maccabi last summer.

The 28-year-old striker was sent out on loan to Anorthosis Famagusta last season after Maccabi deemed him to be a negative influence on the squad. He was brought back to Israel after a comeback season in Cyprus, and despite not starting on Thursday, had an ideal opportunity to give Tel Aviv all three points, only to see his penalty saved in the dying moments.

APOEL ‘keeper Pardo had very little else to do throughout the night, with Maccabi failing to register a single shot on target in the first half.

He was forced into a save by Tal Ben-Haim in the 76th minute before denying Itzhaki to ensure his team would return home with a point after only being handed a place in the group stage thanks to Fenerbahce SK’s exclusion from UEFA competitions.

Nicosia was knocked out by Zulte Waregem of Belgium in the playoffs, but won a lottery to play in the group stage following Fenerbahce’s ban.

“Itzhaki is one of several players on our team who has the character needed to take such a penalty so I have no problem with the miss,” said Maccabi coach Paulo Sousa. “APOEL sat back and closed us down and we found it very difficult to break them down. We had our chances but we missed them and that can happen.”

Also in Group F on Thursday, Eintracht Frankfurt defeated Bordeaux 3-0.

Maccabi Haifa hosted AZ Alkmaar in Group L in a match which ended after press time.

Also Thursday, Guy Luzon’s amazing run at Standard Liege came to an end, with his Belgian side losing 2-1 at home to Danish club Esbjerg in the Europa League. The Israeli coach had won all 13 of his previous matches since joining Liege, triumphing in seven of seven league games as well as in all six of the team’s Europa League qualifiers.
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