Maccabi Tel Aviv lined-up for the 151st European match knowing that a victory over Spartak Trnava at Bloomfield stadium, will secure qualification to the Conference League Playoffs. The Slovakian outfit, that held Maccabi to a 0-0 draw last week, arrived on the back of Monday’s 4-0 league victory over bottom of the table Liptovsky Mikulas.
Patrick van Leeuwen didn’t make any changes from the side that was held to a draw in Slovakia as Daniel Peretz kept his place in goal with Matan Baltaxa and Louis Hernandez lining-up in front of him as the two central defenders.
Andre Geraldes and Enric Saborit completed the back-four on the right and left respectively while Dan Glazer and Sheran Yeini were named as the two holding midfielders with Avi Rikan completing the midfield trio. Rikan, together with Tal Ben Chaim, made their 50th appearance for Maccabi in Europe as the 32-year-old forward was named on one side of the attack. Matan Hozez, was named on the other wing aiming to celebrate his 25th birthday with a goal. Osama Khalaila led Maccabi’s attack hoping to emulate the brace he scored against Sutjeska of Montenegro in the previous round.
Maccabi began the match on the front foot with the first threat on goal inside the opening minute but Avi Rikan’s shot after 49 seconds sailed wide. Trnava’s Milan Ristovski tried catching Daniel Peretz off-guard but his weak shot didn’t trouble Maccabi’s young keeper. In the ninth minute Trnava’s defense struggled to deal with an Enric Saborit cross which fell to Andre Graldes whose shot went high over the crossbar.
Three minutes later however, the deadlock was broken with Maccabi’s first attempt on target. Sheran Yeini, on his 67th European appearance for Maccabi headed in a Tal Ben Chaim corner past Dominik Takac to lift the 9972 fans off their seats.
Matan Hozez who looked dangerous down the right flank, floated a cross into the area on 34 before Ben Chaim leaped above his marker only to send his header high over the crossbar. A Yeini back pass in the 40th minute caught Maccabi’s defence flat, but before a Trnava forward managed to latch onto the loose ball, Peretz charged out of his box and cleared the danger.
Shortly before the interval. Rikan tore through the middle of Trnava’s defence before unleashing a powerful left foot drive that was pushed by Takac over the crossbar. The resulting corner saw Saborit cross the ball into the danger-zone only to be headed by Louis Hernandez onto the roof of the net.
With no changes at halftime, Trnava came out of the dressing room a little sharper as Peretz was forced to be at full stretch to pull a stunning save and keep out Ristovski’s close range header on 48.
A darting Ben Chaim run from the halfway line in the 54th minute resulted with a through ball into the path of Hozez who was let down by his finishing touch as he shot wide.
Patrick van Leeuwen made his first change on 69 when Eduardo Guerrero replaced Rikan in a bid to add more firepower. Within a minute Maccabi came close to double the score as another pinpoint Ben Chaim through the ball released Hozez who once again sent his shot to the wrong side of the post.
As his passes were not converted by his teammates, Ben Chaim decided to try and score himself but the 32-year-old winger rattled Trnava’s crossbar on 72. This was Ben Chaim’s final contribution on the night as he was replaced together with Osama Khalaila by Eylon Almog and Ofir Davidzada in the 75th minute.
Davidzada and Guerrero combined well in the 80th minute to carve an opening but the Panamanian’s shot that beat Takac rattled the Trnava crossbar once again.
Shahar Piven and Ido Shahar replaced Yeini and Hozez on the final minute as the skipper bowed out to a standing ovation while the fourth official indicated 5 minutes of added time.
Inside injury time Maccabi could have doubled their lead as Almog, Guerrero and Shahar charged forward on a counter attack but none of them could get a shot on target. A Trnava free kick gave Maccabi a little scare but the referee’s final whistle ended the tie with a narrow victory that was enough to secure the passage to the next stage.