Maccabi Tel Aviv lost for the first time at home this season in the club's last game of the first preliminary stage of the Euroleague. The 76-78 defeat in front of a disappointed home crowd to Efes Pilsen of Turkey saw Maccabi finish second in group A. The Tel Aviv side will face Tau Vitoria of Spain, Ulker Istanbul of Turkey and CSKA Moscow in the second stage.

But despite the loss and the immediate frustration that followed from the home team and its supporters, the result could be a blessing in disguise, as Tel Aviv's may have a more comfortable grouping than the one the team would have got had it finished in first place, the position taken in the end by Kinder Bologna.

Regardless of the placing, on the strength of last night's performance, Maccabi has much to worry about.

The Israelis did not play a clever game last night, with few plays on offense. The only two players who kept the Tel Aviv side in the picture were Arriel McDonald, who finished with four steals, and Nate Huffman, who came away with 23 points on the night.

The outrageously slack guarding of three-point expert Salius Stombergas allowed the visitor to shoot almost at will at the Maccabi hoop, sinking five of six attempts from beyond the arc, while Efes's point guard, Marcus Brown, forced Maccabi's players into committing many fouls. Stombergas finished with 17 points and was topped by center Caspare Kembala who had 20.

The competition resumes in two weeks' time.

The groupings for for the second stage are as follows:

Group E: Benetton Treviso, Barcelona, Skipper Bologna, Scavolini Pesaro

Group F: Kinder Bologna, Real Madrid, Ural Great, Efes Pilsen

Group G: Panathinaikos, AEK Athens, Olympiakos, Olimpija Ljubljana

Group H: Maccabi Tel Aviv, Tau Vitoria, Ulker, CSKA Moscow.