MARIBOR

Picture: Maccabi Tel Aviv FC

Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Champions League dream was ended on Tuesday night after they were knocked out of the competition on aggregate by Maribor.

Trailing 1-0 from last week’s first leg in Slovenia, Tel Aviv’s home leg was played in Cyprus after UEFA ruled Israel unsafe to host the match, though the Yellows had a small pocket of vociferous fans backing them on in Tuesday night in the second leg of their third qualifying round tie.

However, the Slovenians took a deserved lead through Agim Ibraimi in the 35th minute, meaning Oscar Garcia’s side now needed to score three times without reply due to the away goal rule.

They crucially pulled one back before half-time through Tal Ben-Haim, and the unlikely comeback seemed on ten minutes into the second half when Eden Ben-Basat’s steered the ball in from close-range. However, less than a minute later, slack defending allowed Ibraimi to head home his second of the match, and while the Israelis still had time on their hand – and created several good chances – they were unable to push on, meaning they now drop down to playing a Europa League qualifier.

Speaking afterwards, Garcia said: “We were much better than them but they had two chances and they scored two, we had 10 and also scored two. We played much better, but we couldn’t convert our chances and that was the difference. We made unusual mistakes and that killed the game.”

A place in the Champions League playoffs would not have only left Tel Aviv within touching distance of reaching the group stage for just the second time in club history and the first since 2004, but would have also ensured the club an extended European campaign as the losers in the playoffs will automatically advance to the group stage of the Europa League.

“Maccabi has only once reached the group stage of the Champions League so it isn’t really a failure. We want to be a big club in Europe but we are not a big club in Europe. We are a big club in Israel and we want to progress.”

Midfielder Eran Zahavi said: “We are sad and disappointed, but we must lift our heads, we failed in the Champions League. We didn’t even have a chance to celebrate our second goal and we conceded an equaliser. That ruined our momentum. We were the better team in both legs, but we conceded goals we shouldn’t have and we didn’t make the most of our chances. Our goal was to reach the Champions League group stage, but we failed and now we need to focus on the Europa League.”