It was one of the craziest games ever in Israel, definitely in a European competition. And it reflected a kind of schizophrenia as far as Israeli soccer, Maccabi Tel Aviv, its fans and coach Paolo Sousa were concerned.
Mr. Tel Aviv came across a better team and lost his head, while Dr. Maccabi fought back at 3-0, needing five goals to advance. Mr. Tel Aviv’s defense was in a shambles, while Dr. Maccabi scored with beautiful, structured attacks. Mr. Tel Aviv's fans kept swearing at Egyptian star Mohamed Salah, while Dr. Maccabi's fans got behind the team even when the chances seemed nonexistent. Mr. Paolo continues to trust inconsistent left-back Yoav Ziv, while Dr. Sousa never gives up, offering a smart game plan.
Sousa was a great central midfielder, and he believes in defense. It's only logical that he brought in defensive replacements, but it makes no sense that Ziv remains the preferred left-back with Eitan Tibi in the center of the defense.
What happened to Spanish defender Mane; why didn't he start? As far as we know, he isn't injured, and in a game that Sousa called the most decisive of the season, Mane didn't even make the squad. If there's a problem with Mane, it will eventually be revealed. If there isn't, his sidelining seems a strange decision.
After just over half an hour, it seemed the difference between Maccabi and Basel was like the difference between Jaffa and the Matterhorn. Still, what appeared a shameful performance soon morphed into a show of character by the Israeli champions. In previous years, Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Tel Aviv reached the group stages of the Champions League in part because they were seeded, drew relatively easy rivals and could trust UEFA President Michel Platini's elaborate schemes to help smaller clubs.
Maccabi Tel Aviv, which has rarely succeeded in Europe, did not enjoy these benefits, but the team is just as good as those Haifa and Hapoel teams. If Sousa improves his defense, Maccabi will prove that point soon enough.
A higher percentage of converting chances would help, but Maccabi's midfield and strikers are good enough for the Europa League. The Champions League dream is over; Maccabi must ask itself what its new dream is. Success in the Europa League - which might help it be seeded next season - is one possibility. Focusing on regaining the league title in a bid to reach the Champions League next season is another. Maccabi must decide.
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