Mac TA seeks to keep pedal to the metal

Up 2-0 and home for second leg, yellow-and-blue knows it can’t look past Gyori to Basel.

Maccabi Tel Aviv Champions 370 (photo credit: Maccabi Tel Aviv website )
Maccabi Tel Aviv Champions 370
(photo credit: Maccabi Tel Aviv website )
Maccabi Tel Aviv coach Paulo Sousa insisted that his players remain focused on completing the job against Hungarian champion Gyori ETO on Tuesday, despite being just a week away from a likely meeting with FC Basel in the Champions League third qualifying round.
Maccabi outplayed Gyori in the first leg of the second qualifying round last Wednesday to claim a 2-0 advantage on the road and all but secure its progress.
However, Sousa believes there is no room for complacency at Bloomfield Stadium on Tuesday, even though he couldn’t help but admit that his team has a very significant lead.
“The main thing I passed to my players is that we cannot drop our concentration,” Sousa said on Monday. “We have still not passed this round. We are completely focused on this game and after we pass it we will have time to consider our next opponent.”
Despite a promising display from the first whistle, Maccabi had to wait until the 76th minute to take the lead in Hungary through Barak Itzhaki, with Gal Alberman scoring four minutes into stoppage time to effectively end Gyori’s hopes.
Rade Prica will miss the second leg due to a back injury, and is expected to be replaced by Tal Ben-Haim. However, Sousa will likely keep faith with the rest of the lineup that started in Gyori.
“We need to control the emotions and I think we have the maturity to do so because most of the players are used to playing here with our fans,” he said. “I want to see my team play with a pattern all the time, with a hunger and desire to steal the ball and the potential to dominate.”
Maccabi was handed what was probably the toughest draw possible in the third qualifying round on Friday when it was paired with Swiss champion Basel.
Basel has dominated the Swiss league in recent years, winning four straight championships, and has risen to prominence in Europe other recent seasons.
Basel, currently coached by Murat Yakin, defeated Manchester United 2-1 to progress to the last 16 of the Champions League at the expense of the English giant in 2011/2012 before reaching the Europa League semifinals last season.
The first leg will take place in Switzerland on July 30/31, with the return leg to be played the following week.
Despite the somewhat ominous prospect of facing Basel, Maccabi will still be guaranteed at least four more matches in continental competition assuming it advances past Gyori on Tuesday.
The winner in the third qualifying round will advance to a playoff for a Champions League group-stage berth, while the loser will be handed a second chance in the Europa League playoffs.
Gyori will be without banned head coach Attila Pinter once more on Tuesday, but he remains optimistic of his team’s chances.
“This is a very beautiful country and we are enjoying our stay, but this isn’t the reason we have come,” said Pinter, who was banned due to unruly conduct for two European matches.
“We are hungry and we believe we have a chance to advance. It is going to be a difficult mission for us because we all know what happened in the first leg. But we think we can still win the tie.”