Maccabi TA facing mammoth task vs Basel

Yellow-and-blue in 1-0 hole ahead of return leg Champions League qualifier at Bloomfield.

MACCABI TEL AVIV striker Barak Itzhaki 370 (photo credit: Maccabi Tel Aviv website)
MACCABI TEL AVIV striker Barak Itzhaki 370
(photo credit: Maccabi Tel Aviv website)
After all the build-up to the showdown was overshadowed by matters completely unrelated to sports, Maccabi Tel Aviv will need to overcome the distractions, as well as a 1-0 deficit against a tough FC Basel side, to keep alive its Champions League dream on Tuesday night.
Maccabi hosts Basel in the second leg of the third qualifying round at Bloomfield Stadium, looking to erase last week’s slender defeat in Switzerland.
The four-time defending Swiss champion dominated the first half and Maccabi was fortunate to find itself just onegoal down at the break, with Valentin Stocker scoring the opener in the 39th minute.
Maccabi finally found its rhythm after the interval, but couldn’t convert its chances and will require an almost flawless performance to stun Basel, which reached the Europa League semifinals last season.
“Our approach will be the same throughout the game,” said Maccabi coach Paulo Sousa. “We have to take into account that Basel will have its chances, but we want to score from the first minute.”
Sousa continued to spread optimism regarding Maccabi’s chances on Tuesday.
“I thought from the beginning that we could beat Basel because I’m an optimistic person,” he said. “From what I’ve seen from my players I’ve got even more confidence, especially after the first game. I think we can cause Basel difficulties but we need to perform really well individually and collectively. Since we finished the first leg I feel that my players are confident and that we will do it and qualify.”
Sousa was doing his best to focus on the game itself, with Basel’s Egyptian players Mohamed Salah and Mohamed Elneny garnering much of the attention over the past week.
Salah was reported to have said that he had no choice but to travel to Israel and that in his mind he will be playing in Palestine.
However, he denied the claims on Monday.
“I’m here with my team because we need to win and want to reach the Champions League,” he said. “If anyone reads any political statement from me it is not true.”
Salah was one of Basel’s best players last week and is expected to start once more in the second leg, with Mohamed Elneny also likely to be in the first 11.
“We wanted to win by two goals in the first leg, but I believe that our 1-0 win will also prove to be enough,” said Basel coach Murat Yakin, who refused to answer any questions regarding his Egyptians.
“Maccabi will be ready, but we are experienced in these situations.
We just need to play the way we did in the first half last week. Maccabi has a strong attacking game, but I’m optimistic.”
Maccabi is expected to make one change to the team that played in Switzerland, with Tal Ben-Haim to take the place of Omri Altman in the midfield.
“We didn’t show enough character in the first half last week and when you do that against a team like Basel you get punished,” said midfeilder Alberman. “We will have to be brave on Tuesday, but also make sure we don’t concede.
The way we balance the two will decide the tie.”