Two goals in the last 15 minutes from captain Eran Zahavi saw Maccabi Tel Aviv seal claim a stunning victory in the Czech Republic as they kept alive their dream of playing in this season’s Champions League.
Up against it going into the second leg, having lost last week in Israel 2-1, the Israeli champions had to beat Viktoria Plzen by at least two goals, and having survived a couple of early scare, notably when Aidon Mahmutovic, went ahead in the 76th minute when Zahavi converted from the penalty spot after David Limbersky had been fouled in the box.
Still needing a goal to qualify, Zahavi duly delivered, when he converted Yuval Shquingin’s cross, and needed goalkeeper Juan Pablo to produce a fine injury-time save from Jan Kopic’s header to prevent the game going to extra-time.
The morning after Maccabi advanced to the Champions League playoff round, Barak Itzhaki was still celebrating well after the final whistle was blown at the Doosan Arena
Manager Barak Itzhaki said: “The supporters that came to see us play on Plzen believed that we could do it. We heard them more than the 11,000 Plzen fans. We’re thrilled that we made them happy and also our fans around the globe
“We worked on this game plan and wanted to make sure we got to the 70th minute 0:0 because we knew that during the last 20 minutes of the match they would tire. Now we have to wait to see who we get in the draw. I have a feeling we’ll get Celtic, but regardless whoever we get we will be prepared for them. I’m so excited with all of the celebrations. I hope that the flight attendants and the stewardesses didn’t get to upset at us because the flight was a very happy one.
Midfielder Gili Vermouth said: “This was a great birthday present. We accomplished something very difficult. We all followed the game plan and with a bit of luck everything went as planned. I’m also happy that all of the substitutions worked out and helped win this match. This is a sweet victory. The Maccabi fans have us a feeling that we were playing at home.”