Maccabi Tel Aviv captain Eran Zahavi scored two all important away goals at St. Jakob Park against Swiss side FC Basel and came away with a stunning 2:2 draw in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League playoff round. The second leg will be played at Bloomfield Stadium next Tuesday night August 25th as Maccabi will look to advance to the group stages of the Champions League.
Eran Zahavi has proved time and time again that he is the best Israeli footballer of our generation scoring a brace and showing his top qualities while willing his team to result after result.
Watching Zahavi is witnessing absolute greatness. His game tying goal in the dying minutes of the match was what dreams are made of as he headed in a brilliant pass by Dor Micha. His first goal was also an elegant strike taking an Avi Rikan free kick pass and putting the ball past Tomas Vaclik the Basel 'keeper.
Head coach Slavisa Jokanovic went with a starting lineup that included a lone striker in Eden Ben Bassat with Eran Zahavi playing right behind him flanked by Tal Ben Chaim and Avi Rikan. Gal Alberman and Nosa Igiebor shored up the rest of the midfield while Omri Ben Harush, Yuval Shpungin, Tal Ben Haim and Eitan Tibi played in front of veteran 'keeper Juan Pablo,
The first half began with Basel getting a number of early chances but couldn't find a way to convert as Juan Pablo made a terrific save in the 6th minute. In the 12th minute Basel subbed out striker Marc Janko in favor of Shkelzen Gashi which changed the Swiss side's tactics. The host's young winger Breel Embolo broke free a number of times causing Maccabi some problems, however the storm was weathered as the match remained scoreless until the 31st minute.
After defending for much of the first half the Yellow-and-Blue finally broke through with their first goal at St. Jakob Park in their third all-time match at the stadium. Avi Rikan's free kick from the right side of the box found its target in one Eran Zahavi who scored as he sliced through the box to send the ball home to give Maccabi a valuable away goal.
However, the lead was short lived as defender Tal Ben Haim tripped up Matias Delgado in the visitors area to give Basel a penalty kick which Delgado the captain coolly converted to knot up the score at 1:1 in the 37th minute.
The second half saw coach Jokanovic make a substitution in the 51st minute bringing in Nikola Mitrovic for striker Eden Ben Bassat as well as taking off an injured Nosa Igiebor who had another strong match for Dor Peretz in the 71st minute. Both sides continued to play a game of cat and mouse though most of the final forty-five minutes with Maccabi clinging onto the 1:1 scoreline and the crucial away goal.
As the minutes ticked by Breel Embolo who had been dangerous all night for the Red & Blue finally broke through the Maccabi defense and slotted the ball right underneath Juan Pablo to give Basel a 2:1 lead in the 86th minute. It looked like we would be heading back to Tel Aviv with an away goal but down on total goals, except Basel forgot that Maccabi has the ultimate weapon in Eran Zahavi.
Zahavi amazingly headed in a goal with just minutes remaining in the 6 minutes of injury time as the captain timed his jump perfectly to meet Dor Micha's pinpoint pass and send all of the Yellow-and-Blue supporters into ecstasy!