Maccabi Tel Aviv ousted despite enthralling comeback

Yellow-and-blue battle back from three goals down to draw 3-3 with Basel but still knocked out.

Maccabi TA370 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Maccabi TA370
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Despite a brave fight back, Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Champions League dream ended at Bloomfield Stadium on Tuesday night.
The Israeli champion always required a special performance to oust FC Basel after losing the first leg 1-0 last week. However, the yellow-and- blue found itself facing mission impossible after just 32 minutes of the return leg, trailing 3-0 following a dismal defensive display, leaving Tel Aviv requiring five goals to advance.
Maccabi didn’t score five, but it managed to find the back of the net three times, giving itself real hope of completing a momentous comeback after equalizing in the 54th minute.
However, it never really came close to advancing, ultimately only managing an entertaining 3-3 draw, dropping to a 4-3 defeat on aggregate in the third qualifying round.
The only real consolation for Maccabi is that its continental campaign will continue in the Europa League playoffs, although coach Paulo Sousa drew plenty of other positives from Tuesday’s match.
“I’m proud of my players,” said Sousa. “We showed our quality not just to Israel but to the entire world.
We hoped to advance, but we were facing an experienced opponent.”
After controversially avoiding the traditional pre-match handshakes with Maccabi players last week, Egyptian Mohamed Salah followed the protocol on Tuesday but was still treated to deafening boos every time he touched the ball.
However, Basel would soon silence the Maccabi fans, taking the lead after less than five minutes.
A reckless challenge by the usually reliable Shiran Yeini gifted Basel a penalty and Fabian Schar dusted himself down and sent goalkeeper Juan Pablo the wrong way.
Matters only got worse for Maccabi after that, with the four-time defending Swiss champion opening a 3-0 lead by the 32nd minute.
The much-maligned Salah coolly found the back of the net in the 21st minute after Basel quickly broke forward following an irresponsible Eran Zahavi turnover.
Some Maccabi fans were already making their way home in the 32nd minute after Marcelo Diaz’s sensational strike with the outside of his right foot flew into the top right corner.
Tel Aviv seemed to be heading towards an embarrassing defeat, but while it failed to overturn the massive deficit, it did at least show its character with a memorable comeback.
Just two minutes after going three goals in front, Schar bundled the ball into his own net after ‘keeper Yann Sommer could only parry Barak Itzhaki’s powerful effort.
Zahavi made it 3-2 with barely two more minutes passing by, surging into the box before smashing the ball past Sommer.
The Swiss goalie had to be at his best to deny Tal Ben-Haim with seven minutes remaining in the first half, but Maccabi got well and truly back into the match nine minutes after the break, with Maharan Radi scoring with a sensational volley from outside the box to tie the score at 3-3.
Maccabi still required two more goals to complete a remarkable feat, but despite throwing caution to the wind, it failed to score again and will have to quickly turn its focus to reaching the Europa League group stage.
“We can look at the match from two angles,” said Zahavi. “We were forced to chase Basel from the start, but we showed our character. Anyone who saw this match wouldn’t have been able to guess which team is which. We had a chance to complete a comeback, but the dream will have to wait a little longer.”