A week after being held to a 1-1 draw in Cyprus, Maccabi returned to Bloomfield stadium for the 3rd qualifying round return leg against AEK Larnaca. With a place in the Conference League Playoff at stake, a sell-out crowd braved the hot and humid weather conditions to come and cheer-on Robbie Kean’s side to victory.

Keane made no changes to his starting line-up as Daniel Peretz whose penalty save in Larnaca denied AEK a late comeback, started in goal. Enric Saborit and Nir Bitton were the two central defenders with Yvann Macon on the right and Roy Revivo on the left completing the back-four. Joris van Overeem was named at the heart of Maccabi’s midfield in the anchorman role with Dor Peretz and Dan Biton completing the midfield trio. Yonatan Cohen, the scorer of Maccabi’s goal last week, supplied the width on one wing while Parfait Guiagon who scored the opener in the previous round in Moldova on the opposite flank. Eran Zahavi, led the team out wearing the captain’s armband as the veteran forward led the attack to spearhead Keane’s formation.

Milson, who recovered from a groin injury, was named by Keane on the bench ready to make his official Maccabi debut. Roi Mishpati, Dan Glazer, Dor Turgeman, Gabi Kanichowsky, Idan Nachmias, Eyal Golasa, Derrick Luckassen, Ofir Davidzada, Eylon Almog, Shahar Piven and Ido Shahar were also named amongst the substitutes waiting to be called on and make an impact.

First Half

Maccabi began the match with pressure on AEK right from the off as Yonatan Cohen came close to score in the opening minute. But Cohen’s left foot curling shot deflected off Gustavo Ledes forcing goalkeeper Kenan Piric to claw the ball out with a reflex save. Enric Saborit who headed the resulting corner just over the framework, carved AEK’s defense with a cleaver through ball to Eran Zahavi in the 4th minute, but the veteran striker had his shot saved by Piric. Maccabi kept on pushing forward with Parfait Guiagon who led a counter attack but the Ivorian’s pass which found Cohen didn’t result with a shot on target. The visitors looked dangerous going forward as an Adam Gyurcso shot come cross rolled across the face of Daniel Peretz’s goal in the 16th minute.

Maccabi’s best chance came in the 24th minute with Dor Peretz and Guiagon exchanging passes deep inside their own territory. Peretz then exchanged passes with Zahavi and continued his run into the AEK area before releasing Zahavi with a clever back-heal flick only for Zahavi’s shot which seemed to have beat the keeper – ultimately blocked by a Larnaca defender for a corner.

Imad Faraj whose scored AEK’s equalizer in Larnaca was the first player to be booked by Croatian referee Fran Jovic in the 26th minute while Roy Revivo was also shown yellow on 43 for a mistimed challenge on Facundo Sanchez.

With no goals scored, the halftime whistle sent both teams to catch their breaths and regroup in the dressing rooms before emerging for the fourth quarter of this close two-legged tie.

Second Half

Robbie Keane made no changes at the restart while his AEK counterpart Jose Luis Oltra introduced Rafael Lopes for Fran Sol. Three minutes after the restart, Zahavi stole the ball from a defender just inside AEK’s half. Zahavi then cut the ball back for Dan Biton whose left foot effort from the edge of the area sailed high over the crossbar.

In the 62nd minute Milson was handed a chance to make his Maccabi full debut as he came on for Cohen. Within two minutes, Guiagon sent the pacy Angolan winger with a long ball, but what seemed like a tug of the shirt by a Larnaca defender went unpunished by the referee.

Bruno Gama who was introduced minutes earlier at Larnaca, curled a right foot shot that landed on the roof of Peretz’s net in the 65th minute. Dor Peretz should have scored at the opposite end within a minute as Zahavi managed to pick him with a perfect pass. Peretz, who missed a handful of chances last week, shrugged off a defender but from five meters out saw his effort saved by Piric. Maccabi continued to press in a desperate attempt to break the deadlock but Zahavi’s left foot drive that beat the keeper on 72 struck the base of the post.

In the 77th minute Peretz rose high to meet Biton’s corner but sent his header over while two minutes later AEK came close as the ball deflected off Joris van Overeem and crept out for a corner. Bloomfield was silenced for a second as the resulting corner was bundled in at the end of a goalmouth scramble only for the referee to rule it out for a foul.

Keane made a double change in the 84th minute as Shahar Piven and Gabi Kanichowsky replaced Yvann Macon and Biton. Less than 30 seconds later Maccabi were awarded a penalty after Milson was tripped inside the area. Zahavi stepped up, kept his calm, and successfully sent Piric the wrong way to convert the spot kick and put Maccabi in-front.

Guiagon came off to a standing ovation by the 26,152 fans as he was replaced by Eyal Golasa for the closing stages. The full time whistle allowed Maccabi fans and players alike to breathe out in relief and prepare for next week’s first leg of the Playoff against Celje of Slovenia that won their tie against Neman of Belarus 4-1 on aggregate.