High-flying Mac TA faces toughest test yet

Riding impressive unbeaten streak, Israeli league-leader visits Frankfurt; Mac Haifa takes on PAOK.

Maccabi Tel Aviv's Eran Zahavi 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Maccabi Tel Aviv's Eran Zahavi 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Over the past two months Maccabi Tel Aviv has played eight matches throughout all competitions.
It has won six of them and drawn the other two. However, what has been especially impressive about Maccabi’s run since August 24 is that it has conceded just a single goal over that span, and that too came in an impressive 2-1 Europa League victory at Girondins de Bordeaux in France three weeks ago.
After defeating Hapoel Ramat Hasharon 1-0 on Sunday to open a three-point lead atop the Premier League standings, Maccabi is closing in on Hapoel Yahod’s record from the 1981/82 season when it only conceded its first goal in its eighth match of the campaign.
The yellow-and-blue also maintained a clean sheet against APOEL Nicosia in its Europa group opener, drawing 0-0, and enters Thursday’s encounter at Eintracht Frankfurt well positioned in Group F after coming back from a goal down to record a surprise victory in Bordeaux.
However, Maccabi’s ruthless consistency faces an even sterner test in Germany on Thursday. Frankfurt beat Bordeaux 3-0 in its group opener before defeating Nicosia by the same score-line in Cyprus.
Frankfurt has experienced a far tougher time in the Bundesliga, drawing its past four matches, although it has lost just one of its last seven league contests since beginning its campaign with two defeats.
Everyone at Maccabi is well aware of the challenge the team faces in Frankfurt, but recent results mean the yellow- and-blue enters any match believing in its chances.
“We have confidence because we know what we have done until now,” said Maccabi defender Carlos Garcia, who is one of the main reasons behind his team’s superb defensive run, playing the full 90 minutes in Tel Aviv’s past eight matches.
“We look to win every match. If Frankfurt shoots 20 times on goal and we don’t shoot at all and the result is 0-0 it’s a good result. But in the beginning our mentality is to go to Frankfurt and win. Maybe we’ll end up playing in defense for 95 minutes, but we want to win.”
Carlos credited the entire team for its stingy defense.
“People look at the defenders and goalkeeper when you don’t allow goals, but it starts from the strikers and midfielders,” he explained. “They press a lot and work a lot.”
Maccabi will also host Frankfurt at Bloomfield in two weeks and Carlos is not getting ahead of himself despite Tel Aviv’s encouraging start to the group stage.
“Our goal from the start was to advance to the next round,” he said.
“Now we have four points and we are in a good situation. However, we have four more games and two consecutive against Frankfurt, which is the strongest team in the group. It won’t be easy but that remains our objective.”
Maccabi Haifa visits PAOK Thessaloniki in Group L action on Thursday, hoping to build on its first win in almost two months on Saturday, a 3-0 victory over Maccabi Petah Tikva.
Haifa came back from two-goals down to draw 2-2 at Shakhter Karagandy three weeks ago to pick up its first group point after losing 1-0 to AZ Alkmaar in its opener.
For almost the first time this season, Haifa coach Arik Benado will have a full squad at his disposal and he will have some difficult decisions to make, especially as the Greens have also got a league derby against Hapoel Haifa to look forward to on Sunday.