After last night's big win against Maccabi Haifa, team captain Sheran Yeini, head coach Pako Ayestaran and centre half Eytan Tibi were all keen to praise the team's display. And how about that goal from Zahavi!
Last night at Bloomfield Stadium Maccabi Tel Aviv enjoyed one of the finest moments of the season so far, as a cracker of a goal a minute from time by star midfielder Eran Zahavi handed them a 2-1 victory over long-standing rivals Maccabi Haifa in the first of ten play-off matches. The team performed brilliantly throughout the match and dominated their opponents completely, while the win preserves Maccabi's five-point lead at the top of the Israeli Premier League table ahead of their match against title rivals Hapoel Beer Sheva, scheduled for after the international break.
After the match, and ahead of this critical run-in phase of the season, team captain Sheran Yeini shared his feelings with the official Maccabi website crew: "This was a very important match. We got off to a great start and controlled the match. Just a pity we let them pull one back, but we got a hold of the game again and that goal at the end, that's Eran Zahavi head and shoulders above the rest. He's a true winner and makes the difference in so many games".
Yeini also spoke about the team's ambition to win every match: "I think that the developments in the past few years, here at the club and in the team, have produced a kind of tailwind, that even when we're trailing we do everything to win the game under any circumstances. It's good for the club because it makes our play much more intensive. We take one game at a time. Now we'll take a short break for the European qualifiers and afterwards we'll be focused only on the match against Hapoel Beer Sheva".
Another person with reason to be pleased after last night's performance was, of course, head coach Pako Ayestaran: "Today we had to confirm again that we were the best team and we have shown that maybe it has been one of the best performances you have seen in any game in Israel. But we have to be able to keep going and not think that something has been achieved because there are still nine games to go and everything can happen". Asked to describe his feelings when he saw Eran Zahavi's shot go into the net the Spaniard replied: "Relief, especially because I think we deserved to win. I would have been sorry about the players because the effort they made and the level of football they played today deserved more reward than a draw. I said the future depends on what we do in the present. I think today they've shown I was right. I said to them 'I would like you to confirm that I was right and that you are the players that I really think you are' and that's what they've shown today".
As for the evening's first goalscorer, Nigerian midfielder Nosa Igiebor, Pako said: "I'm pleased for him because as you know I think from the beginning I really knew he was a player who could add a lot to the team, to the squad and to the club. I insisted and I insisted and I kept my idea and I think he's showing that he's a great player". And the second? "It's a gift for Maccabi to have a player like Eran Zahavi and I hope Maccabi will be able to keep him for many years because if the club want to make one step forward, for these kinds of players you have to make an effort to keep them in the club. I think loyalty is something you have to pay for. He injects so much character into the team, not only during the games, on a daily basis as well and that is more important than even the game".
The coach was also asked if he had a word for the Maccabi players headed for international duties in this weekend's Euro 2016 qualifiers against Wales and Belgium: "I think they've got a great opportunity to get something that has not been achieved for many years and I think when you've got such a good opportunity you have to grab it with both hands".
Eran Zahavi, the source of such great joy at Bloomfield last night, also had a word to say about the win and, of course, his role in it: "The goal was special, no doubt about that. But the match belonged to us from the very start, we deserved to win it. The fact that the winner came in the last minute makes it that much more spectacular, certainly. There are times like that, you know from the minute your foot connects with the ball it's going in. But the credit for the win goes to the whole team. It's also important that we got our lead in the table back to five points but let's not go overboard, we still have Beer Sheva next time out. But first the European qualifiers".
Veteran centre half Eytan Tibi was also keen to get in a word, about the match itself and about how Zahavi's goal at the end compared with other goals that might have given the league championship to Maccabi in the past two years: "The game was brilliant, it was all us. They had one chance and scored but no question about who deserved to win. As for Eran's goal at the end, I've seen some great ones in the past two years and before that too, but there are too many more games to play to tell right now whether this one will settle the title. I certainly hope so".