Making the 150th appearance in European competition against the 70th opponent, Maccabi Tel Aviv began their assault on the Europa Conference League Playoff stage. A week before hosting Spartak Trnava at Bloomfield stadium, the Slovakian side hosted the 3rd qualifying round first leg at the śtadion Antona Malatinského, in Trnava.
Maccabi’s coach Patrick van Leeuwen who was several players through injury was forced to make some changes from the side that advanced past Sutjeska in the previous round.
With Daniel Tenenbaum still not a 100% fit, young Daniel Peretz who had a promising start to the campaign, kept his place in goal. Matan Baltaxa and Louis Hernandez lined up as the two central defenders with Andre Geraldes on the right and Enric Saborit on the left completed the back four. Sheran Yeini who missed the previous round with COVID, led the side with the captain’s armband as he partnered Dan Glazer at the heart of midfield. Avi Rikan completed the midfield trio while Matan Hozez and Tal Ben Chaim on his 32nd birthday were named by Van Leeuwen as the two wingers. Osama Khalaila, who scored a brace in last week’s return leg against the Montenegrins led the attack aiming to replicate his performance.
Maccabi began the match on the front foot and came close to break the deadlock as early as the fifth minute when Osama release Tal Ben Chaim into the area. The winger, cut onto his right before unleashing a low drive that struck the base of the post to deny the 32-year-old a goal an perfect birthday present. In the 9th minute Maccabi’s defense were stretched as a Saymon Cabral cross rolled across the face of goal with Bamidele Yusuf failing to make contact. In the 15th minute however, Maccabi struck the woodwork once again as Matan Hozez’s trickery down the right flank resulted with a pinpoint cross that was headed by Matan Baltaxa onto the crossbar.
Maccabi continued pushing forward as Andre Geraldes combined well with Hozez in the 20th minute only to see the cross of the Portuguese full-back deflected out by a Trnava defender before Avi Rikan or Khalaila could connect.
Hozez flashed a left foot shot that cleared the crossbar on 25, but four minutes later Hozez whipped in a free kick that was tipped over by goalkeeper Dominic Takac. Hozez came even closer less than sixty seconds later as Ben Chaim picked him at the back post with a delicate chip but despite directing his header on goal, Filip Twardzik managed to rescue Trnava from conceding as he headed the ball off his line.
Russian referee Kiril Levnikov didn’t add a second as he blew the halftime whistle exactly in the 45th minute sending both teams into the dressing room with the score still at 0-0.
The second half began exactly where the first one left off as Hozez blasted a left foot shot high and wide of the target. Jan Vlasko became the first player to enter the referee’s book for a foul on Dan Glazer in the 52nd minute. The same Vlasko escaped a second booking on 57 for a foul on Ben Chaim near the corner of the area. The winger picked himself up and curled a free kick that found Khalaila but the forward sent his header high over the bar.
Van Leeuwen made his first change in the 65th minute as Shahar Piven replaced the industrious Yeini who handed the captain’s armband to Glazer. While Maccabi tried desperately to find an opening but were denied time after time by Spartak’s defence, Daniel Peretz was forced to make a first serious save in the 69th minute. The talented young keeper was at full stretch to push out Kyriakos Savividis’s shot out for a corner that was cleared by Maccabi’s defence. Van Leeuwen made a double change in the 76th minute as Maor Kandil and Eylon Almog replaced both Khalaila and Ben Chaim.
Almog introduced himself well into the game as his turn on the edge of Spartak area in the 80th minute left a defender stranded but the Maccabi forward’s final touch let himself down as he tried releasing Rikan instead of trying to shoot. Three minutes later, Almog managed a dangerous shot on target, but Takac pushed the ball out. Ido Shahar replaced Hozez in the 89th minute as Van Leeuwen made his final substitution of the game. Inside injury time, Kandil found himself deep inside Trnava’s penalty area, but his shot rattled the crossbar shortly before the referee blew the full time whistle.
With no goals scored in Slovakia, both teams will meet at Bloomfield once again as they compete for a place in the Conference League Playoffs.