Nimni’s men will need heroic effort next Thursday to advance to group stage.
By ALLON SINAI
Maccabi Tel Aviv faces an uphill battle to reach the group stage of the Europa League after falling 2-0 to Paris Saint- Germain in the first leg of the playoffs in the French capital on Thursday night.After knocking out Greek giant Olympiacos in the previous round, there were high hopes from Maccabi ahead of Thursday’s encounter. However, the yellow-and-blue only really showed up in the final 15 minutes of the match and can only blame itself for the defeat, which could have been far worse had PSG been at its best.Peguy Luyindula gave the hosts the lead after just three minutes thanks to Avi Strul’s defensive howler, but PSG could not capitalize on its early breakthrough and Maccabi’s poor form.The hosts eventually doubled their lead in the 60th minute through Guillaume Hoarau, and despite the fact Tel Aviv had its chances to score in the closing 15 minutes, it can have no complaints about the final outcome of the first leg, which leaves it with an outside chance at Bloomfield Stadium next Thursday.“This is a result we can overturn, even though we are playing a quality side,” said manager Avi Nimni, who has already got his sights set on Sunday's Premier League opener against Maccabi Haifa. “When you concede two goals on the road you must score, but unfortunately that didn’t happen even though we had our chances.“We can't afford to miss such opportunities.The early mistake which led to their goal changed the match and disrupted our plans. It is a shame we didn't manage to play the way we did away at Olympiacos. We are disappointed but remain optimistic.”Maccabi elected to start the match with five defenders, but its tactical decision quickly backfired. Strul failed to clear Ceara’s cross, sending the ball straight into the path of Luyindula, who slotted in the opener with the match less than three minutes old.Not only did Tel Aviv’s decision to play with three centerbacks open up holes in its defense – it also hindered its ability to break forward.Strul, Ronnie Gafni and Savo Pavicevic, who only trained with the team for one day, clearly lacked coordination.But fortunately for Maccabi, PSG was also far from impressive, and it failed to make the most of the confusion in the yellow-and-blue defense.With a league game against Bordeaux coming up on Sunday, the hosts left several key players on the bench, with Claude Makelele, Gregory Coupet and Sammy Traore not even making the squad.That may have been the reason for PSG’s mediocre play, with the Frenchmen only threatening Liran Strauber’s goal once more in the first half when Hoarau had his powerful header saved by the ’keeper four minutes from the break.Seven minutes after the interval, Luyindula should have scored his second goal of the night, but he shot straight at Strauber.Seven minutes later, however, the hosts would score their second.Ludovic Giuly’s perfectly weighted pass gave Hoarau the chance he was waiting for, and the Frenchman beat Strauber with a curling effort. Maccabi at last found its footing after the introduction of Maor Buzaglo, Yuval Avidor and Shiran Yeini as substitutes in the subsequent minutes and the visitors were not far from scoring a precious away goal.Barak Itzhaki, Avidor and Buzaglo all came close to breaching Apoula Edel’s goal, but the Parisians maintained a clean sheet until the final whistle. As a result, Maccabi has a tall mountain to climb if it’s to reach the Europa League group stage.
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