Yellow-and-blue licking its wounds ahead of Champions League playoff

Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Eran Zahavi (photo credit: ASAF KLIGER)
Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Eran Zahavi
(photo credit: ASAF KLIGER)

The yellow-and-blue was hoping to begin 2015/16 with another triumph after last season’s clean sweep.

Maccabi Tel Aviv believes the defeat to Ironi Kiryat Shmona in the Israeli Super Cup will not have any lasting effects as it continues its buildup for Wednesday’s Champions League playoff first leg at FC Basel in Switzerland.
The yellow-and-blue was hoping to begin 2015/16 with another triumph after last season’s clean sweep, becoming the first team to claim the domestic treble by winning the league title, State Cup and Toto Cup.
Maccabi played with an extra man from the 58th minute on Saturday and twice took the lead through Eran Zahavi. However, last season’s runner-up Kiryat Shmona equalized to force extra-time and once again leveled the score in the 115th minute to send the showdown to penalties.
Kiryat Shmona goalkeeper Guy Haimov came back to haunt his former club, saving two attempts from both Zahavi and Dor Micha, with the Tel Aviv players being handed a second opportunity after the ’keeper left his line too early.
Maccabi coach Slavisa Jokanovic played with his strongest lineup on Saturday, and he will be crossing his fingers his key players will not be tired for Wednesday’s first leg, with Zahavi, Gal Alberman and both Tal Ben-Haim’s among those who were on the pitch for the full 120 minutes.
“We were soft defensively and we gave up some easy goals and this is not the first time we have done this. Kiryat Shmona deserved the victory,” said Jokanovic.
“This was not the level we need to play for an important European game. If we play like this against Basel it will make things very complicated for us. Again, the team relied on Eran Zahavi who scored two goals, but we have to look forward to what we have in front of us now and prepare for our next game.”
Meanwhile, Maccabi Haifa added a significant piece to its squad on Sunday, signing Ofir Kriaf from Beitar Jerusalem.
The 24-year-old, who has spent his entire senior career at Beitar, underwent a trial at UD Las Palmas from Spain’s La Liga earlier this summer, but was not offered a contract.
With Eli Dasa and Shlomi Azulay also leaving Beitar last week, the club is desperate for new signings. Spanish defender Jesus Rueda arrived in Israel on Sunday after leaving Real Valladolid and is set to undergo a medical on Monday. Beitar faces Hapoel Ra’anana in the Toto Cup on Monday in its final match ahead of its league opener against Hapoel Tel Aviv next Monday.