Yellow-and-blue continues to shine

Mac TA thrashes Panathinaikos in Bloomfield first leg; Hap TA defeated at Ekranas.

Moussa Konate maccabi tel aviv_311 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Moussa Konate maccabi tel aviv_311
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Tel Aviv took a massive step towards the group stage of the Europa League on Thursday night, recording an extremely impressive 3-0 victory over Greek giant Panathinaikos in the first leg of the playoffs at Bloomfield Stadium.
The yellow-and-blue maintained its excellent start to the season with one of the best displays ever by an Israeli team in continental competition, thrashing a quality Panathinaikos team, which has played in the group stage of the Champions League or Europa League in each of the past eight seasons.
Both teams squandered chances in the first half, but Maccabi dominated after the break and goals from Moussa Konate (60) and Eliran Atar (67, 90) gave Tel Aviv a win which should allow it to clinch its place in the Europa League group stage in the return leg in Athens next Thursday.
“This was an excellent win,” Maccabi coach Moti Ivanir said. “Every Maccabi fan can be proud of the team for playing determined and beautiful soccer.
This is a once in a lifetime experience and we should enjoy it.”
While Maccabi put on a clinic at Bloomfield, Hapoel Tel Aviv was bitterly disappointing in Lithuania, losing 1-0 to FK Ekranas in the first leg of the playoffs.
The Lithuanians recorded the first chance of the match after less than five minutes, but it soon became apparent that Ekranas is at best a mediocre team.
But as the match progressed it also became clear that Hapoel’s embarrassing 2-1 defeat to Liechtenstein’s FC Vaduz in the third qualifying round was no coincidence, with the Reds extremely poor once more.
The visitors had their chances, but Hapoel’s strikers were poor in front of goal and some equally awful defending saw Ekranas score the winner eight minutes from time.
Goalkeeper Apoula Edel left his line for Ramunas Radavicius’s corner, but he came no where near to clearing the ball and Dedi Ben-Dayan’s woeful marking allowed Mantas Samusiovas to head in a goal which gives the Lithuanians an important lead entering next week’s return leg in Tel Aviv.
At Bloomfield, Maccabi should have found itself a goal down as early as the third minute, but with only ’keeper Guy Haimov to beat, Quincy Owusu- Abeyie inexplicably sent his shot just wide of the upright.
Tel Aviv eventually worked its way into the match and was unlucky not to score the opener in the 20th minute.
Atar’s shot from the edge of the area took a deflection and left goalkeeper Alexandros Tzorvas stranded on the goal-line, but fortunately for the Greeks the ball smashed off the post.
Maccabi followed up an impressive first half with an even better performance after the break and it took a deserved lead in the 60th minute.
Dor Micha squared the ball from the left, and after having his first shot blocked by Tzorvas, Konate raced in to score from the rebound.
Seven minutes later, Maccabi doubled its lead.
Cedric Kante handled the ball in the box and Atar coolly sent Tzorvas the wrong way with his penalty kick to open a promising lead.
Haimov had to make some crucial saves to maintain a clean-sheet before Tel Aviv completed the superb win in the 90th minute, with Atar sending Maccabi fans into delirium with his second goal of the night.