Eran Zahavi is a stone-cold Champions League killer- 12 goals in 23 games kind of earns you that kind of reputation.
Back in 2011-12, he scored 7 goals in 11 Champions League games for Hapoel Tel Aviv in Champions League play in a season when they actually qualified for the group stage, and in that campaign, he scored one of the best golasos you will ever see against Olympique Lyon.
Zahavi, upon his return to Israel from Palermo in 2013, joined Maccabi Tel Aviv, where has continued his golden touch in European play. So far in this summer’s qualifying campaign he has scored 4 goals (and added 2 assists) in his 3 appearances, including 2 massive goals yesterday in the Czech Republic as Maccabi Tel Aviv scored a stunning 2:0 victory over Viktoria Plzen to advance the Champions League playoffs 3:2 on aggregate. For fans of Zahavi’s, his goal-scoring binge in Europe is not surprising. Over the past two seasons for Maccabi Tel Aviv he has netted 60 goals in 73 games in Israel’s domestic league and cup competitions.
Next up for Maccabi will be a matchup against either FC Basel (Switzerland), Celtic (Scotland), APOEL Nicosia (Cyprus), BATE Borisov (Hungary), or Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia) in the final qualifying round for the Champions League. Maccabi is no stranger to facing FC Basel, having lost to them in both Champions League qualifying and Europa League playoffs in 2013-14, so I’m not particularly interested in seeing them again. However, a matchup against Scottish powerhouse Celtic would not only offer a fascinating fixture against a classic European team, but also a chance for Israeli star Nir Bitton, who plays for Celtic, to take the field against his countrymen.
The draw for the playoff takes place Friday in Nyon, Switzerland. No matter who they face, Maccabi will host the first leg of the fixture on August 18 or 19, and play the return leg away on August 25 or 26. With a victory in the playoff round, Maccabi would earn a spot in the Champions League group stages, 6 guaranteed matches (including a pair of games against a top-8 European club- can you picture Messi playing in Israel?) and a huge payday from UEFA. Even with a loss in the playoff, Maccabi’s European campaign will continue in the Europa League group stages, so there will still be football played this fall for the blue-and-yellow outside of Israel.
Stay tuned for information on both the draw and potential viewing opportunities.
Also on the Israeli soccer front, Hapoel Kiryat Shmonah hosts Liberec in Netanya in Europa League qualifying this evening, trying to overcome last week’s 2:1 loss in the Czech Republic. An aggregate win would put them in the playoff for the Europa League group stages on August 20 and 27