Mind the gap: Maccabi to open Champions League play in London

Following their dramatic run through the Champions League qualifiers, thanks in no small part to the otherworldly play of Eran Zahavi, Maccabi Tel Aviv was placed into Group G in the group stages. Thanks to their plucky run through qualifying, Maccabi climbed to #86 in the UEFA club rankings, but face a tall order in their group as they take on the 4th(Chelsea), 11th(Porto), and 30th (Dynamo Kiev) ranked teams in Europe between now and the new year. And make no mistake, the toughest task will be the first one, as Maccabi heads to London next week to take on Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on the 15th. Shana Tovah, Maccabi, indeed. The yellow-and-blue will be seeking to replicate a feat last accomplished by their crosstown rivals, Hapoel Tel Aviv, who went to Stamford Bridge in November of 2001 and came home with a 1:1 draw and an aggregate 3:1 win over Chelsea in that year’s UEFA Cup second round. Following their visit to Chelsea, Maccabi will host Kiev on September 29 at the Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa, travel to Porto on October 21, host Porto in Haifa on November 4, host Chelsea in Haifa on November 24, and travel to Kiev on December 9 to round out the group stage.

Euro 2016: Mission Improbable

After starting the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign with a 3-0-0 record last fall, Israel promptly lost three games in succession in the springtime to dampen the spirits of its supporters the world over. This week’s resumption of play, however, changed the momentum quite nicely, and and following a 4:0 thrashing of Andorra in Haifa last week, the national team traveled to Wales for Sunday’s match with one mission- to not let Wales score a goal. With a Mourinho-esque defensive game plan that saw Israel rarely venturing into the final third of Wales’ end of the field, the Israel stayed organized in their defensive half and successfully held the hosts to a 0:0 draw in Cardiff. Maccabi parried away all 17 of Wales’ offensive chances, including 11 corners and 7 shots of target, while earning only one corner kick and putting a single shot on goal over the 90 minutes. With two qualifying games to go (home vs. Cyprus in Jerusalem on October 10 and at Belgium on October 13), Israel sits 2 points above Bosnia and Herzegovina for third place in the group, so the Cyprus match will be a critical game to win, as an away win in Belgium will be a tall order. A third-place finish would put them in a home-and-away playoff with another group’s third place time to qualify for next summer’s continental championship.

Cellar-dwelling at Maccabi Haifa

In domestic league play, no surprises at the top, at Maccabi Tel Aviv sits at the top of the table along with Maccabi Petach Tikvah, although the season is only two games old. At the bottom, though, sits Maccabi Haifa, whose preseason form in the Toto Cup, when they went 3-0-0, was unfortunately not an indicator of league success. Maccabi Haifa has dropped their first two games of the season and have yet to score a goal, losing 1:0 to Hapoel Acco and 3:0 to Maccabi Petach Tikvah. Better times are hopefully ahead for our cousins in Haifa, but with several disappointing seasons in succession under their belt, there will be little patience on the northern coast for another year of underachievement. Maccabi Haifa will look to finally get their first goal, and first points, of the season when they host B’nei Sakhnin this Saturday at 5:45 pm, Israel time, at Sammy Ofer.