Disappointment at Maccabi after a goal at the final whistle handed Maribor a narrow edge going into the return leg
Tonight an attractive Ljudski Vrt Stadium hosted Maccabi Tel Aviv in their first ever contest with a Slovenian club, the first leg of their Champions League 3rd round qualifier against NK Maribor. The match got off to a pacey start and it was the visiting Israeli champions who created the first danger with only two minutes gone. Winger Tal Ben Haim received a long ball down the left flank and staying just ahead of his marker lifted it back into the area for fellow midfielder Eran Zahavi, whose header was parried to safety by Maribor keeper Jasmin Handanovic. At the quarter hour mark it was the Maccabi keeper Juan Pablo whose services were required to push aside a long-range shot from Maribor midfielder Dare Vrsic. Further chances were created at both at ends of the pitch but the next real opportunity fell to Maccabi's new signing Nosa Igiebor just short of the half hour mark. From the halfway line midfielder Maharan Radi's well-weighted long ball picked out Eran Zahavi in the area, who cleverly back-heeled to an open Igiebor, but the Nigerian midfielder proceeded to bounce his finish wide. The first half ended without either side getting on the scoreboard.
The second half opened with a Maccabi player nearly scoring a goal, but at the wrong end of the pitch. A failed effort by team captain Sheran Yeini to clear a Dare Vrsic cross at the goalmouth was deflected at the last moment by Juan Pablo for a corner. But the Slovenians continued their assault on the Maccabi net and just short of the hour mark Juan Pablo was once again called into action to stop a powerful long-range shot from Maribor midfielder Amir Dervisevic. But just then Maccabi began to pull themselves back into the match and substitute midfielder Dan Einbinder saw two of his efforts sail over the Maribor goal. Meanwhile Eran Zahavi tried twice to surprise the Maribor keeper from corners that curled directly towards the far upperhand corner of the net, but in both instances the 6 foot 5 inch veteran Handanovic leapt high to palm the ball to safety. Surprisingly the next Israeli footballer to come close to scoring wore the purple-and-yellow kit of NK Maribor. Former Beitar Jerusalem winger Sintayehu Sallallich came off the Maribor bench and as the clock approached full time he worked his way in a good individual effort close to the Maccabi area from where he let fly a shot that Juan Pablo saved at a stretch. But at full time the game was still deadlocked in a goalless draw.
Slovakian referee Ivan Kruzliak added four minutes of extra time and just as those 240 seconds looked to be winding down to the same effect, the Slovenians found a dramatic last-gasp winner. With hardly more than a moment left to play a first effort into the area by defender Petar Stojanovic was cleared off the line by Maccabi's new defender Yuval Shpungin. But the clearance returned the ball to Amir Dervisevic and his subsequent cross back into the area gave midfielder Damjan Bohar the opportunity to loop a header past Juan Pablo into the Maccabi net to set the final score at 1-0 in the home side's favour.
Next week the two teams will meet in Larnaca, Cyprus, where Maccabi will attempt to overturn Maribor's one-goal advantage and advance to the Champion's league play-off stage.