We are on the map: Israel’s peak season in Europe

Israel. So it is true that UEFA helped us quite a bit when it established the Conference League – an enterprise that was quite tailored to the dimensions of Israeli football; and it is true that over the years we have had wonderful years, including seasons in which there were three teams in the group stage – but when weighing all the variables, it is very possible that this is the most successful season of Israeli football, since we started playing in Europe in the summer of 1992.

Four teams started their journey in Europe this summer. One was eliminated relatively quickly (Beitar Jerusalem, which never succeeds in Europe – nor was it built for real European success). Hapoel Beer Sheva flew in the 90th minute in the third round. We were left with Maccabi Haifa and Maccabi Tel Aviv – with Haifa reaching the playoffs in the Champions League , and takes third place in the European League (soon we will refer to the great match it made against Fiorentina), and the team from Tel Aviv is on the verge of a crazy qualification for the quarter-finals of a European enterprise.

With the exception of the 2009/10 season, when we had a team in the group stage of the Champions League (Maccabi Haifa) and a team in the group stage of the European League (Hapoel Tel Aviv, who also finished in first place at home). I can’t think of a season where we’ve gotten this far with more than one team. There were amazing seasons for Maccabi Haifa in the Champions (2002/03) or Hapoel Tel Aviv in the UEFA Cup (2001/02), but it was usually a very specific case. Here, there are two Israeli teams that are strongly in the competition for the quarter-finals – a place that only one Israeli team has reached since we joined Europe.

And underneath all that, we mustn’t forget the context that – in my opinion – makes this season the greatest. The war of course; The fact that these teams were suspended for a month, at an even crazier game pace than anyone has experienced on the continent, without a home field (and we all know how significant Sami Ofer is, certainly for Maccabi Haifa), and when they have to fly for both home and away games. And that’s without referring to the fears and anxieties and the foreigners who left and returned – in every sense, this was supposed to be a mediocre season for our football. And instead, we saw the players of both teams ascend to the size of the hour.

And the irony is stronger this time than ever: precisely in a year when Israel’s part in Europe (also in football, but not only) or in the world in general is in doubt; Precisely in the year when football turned its back on the State of Israel at its most difficult hour ever; Precisely in the year when more and more voices called to boycott Israel, or kick it out of UEFA – precisely then, our two top clubs show that we are here. And we will not stop singing. Or scoring goals.

Maccabi Tel Aviv. The historic performance of the yellows last night brought me back to the peak of the crisis – which, as always in this busy season, feels like a long time ago but was very recently. After the draw in Bloomfield against Bnei Sakhnin (a game in which a goal was disallowed for Sakhnin, and Maccabi equalized in the 88th minute A goal by Younes Melda!), the feeling was that Maccabi Tel Aviv was losing it. Zahavi doesn’t hit, Dor Peretz disappears and Robbie Keen doesn’t find the solutions.

Then came the away game against Maccabi Netanya – which may in the annals of this season be considered a key game. Because that was the moment when Kein made the required changes, put Ido Shahar into the rotation (until then we hardly counted), opened up his squad – and also earned back Zahavi, who was rested and returned to score in bunches (five goals in the last three games). Cain succeeded in his mission – to reinvent Maccabi Tel Aviv. And yesterday it looked again like the predatory team he had at the beginning of the season.

But above all, the story probably belongs to Millson – as unsophisticated as it may be to say it, in the end it’s a different team with him and without him. There is no substitute for his technical advantages in Maccabi’s squad, he is a player of the highest level available, and as long as he is on the field – Maccabi Tel Aviv can take off. The game against Olympiakos was first of all a tremendous concert by him – and this allowed both Eran Zahavi and Usher David (who bought the his place in the lineup) to break free and get down to business. You can say that Cain has found his formula – now it remains to be seen how far she will be able to run, until she changes again.

It’s a bit hard to remember, but Maccabi Tel Aviv until the era of Idan Goldhar was not a team that was successful in Europe. Those who gained achievements over the years in the continental frameworks were mainly Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Tel Aviv – the qualification of Klinger’s yellows to the group stage in the 2004/05 season was, with all due respect, A kind of historical fox. What we saw yesterday in Georgios Kraiskakis is the new Maccabi Tel Aviv – the one that reaches the European group stage almost every year, that manages to achieve big victories away from home. Qualifying for the quarter-finals will be its greatest achievement ever in Europe – but it is an achievement that has been building for a long time years

Maccabi Haifa. There is no cliché more battered (and more annoying, at least in my opinion) than the “honorable loss” cliché. Bottom line, Maccabi Haifa conceded a goal in the 95th minute, it’s a painful loss for a team that really gave it all until the last drop of sweat and was worth more than a trip to Florence behind.

But that’s the thing about clichés – that sometimes they’re just true. Because Maccabi Haifa may not remember it in a while, but the display tonight proved how impressive what Masai Dago built this season in Carmel. Here is Maccabi Haifa, away from home, against a legitimate Serie A team (which last season reached the conference league finals), leading twice against the same opponent – and if “Show” doesn’t lose his head with an irresponsible red card, go find out if they don’t win.

Maccabi Haifa of 2023/2024 is “overachiever” in every sense. You look at this roster, and you don’t see too many big names there. There are no mega stars on this team, certainly not compared to the team that was there the year before. What we have here is a bunch of players that a player upgrade might not be worth much, but Masai Dago managed to get 300% of what it’s really worth. To the point where they score three goals against an Italian team. To the extent that.

It could be that yesterday’s game was a kind of closing chord to Haifa’s crazy European season – a season that, as you may recall, started in the Champions Playoffs, continued in the European group stage and ended with what we saw yesterday. In Florence, it will be much more difficult for her to score three goals – certainly to win. But Maccabi Haifa always has to be measured in light of the expectations that were towards it at the beginning. And the truth is that no one thought that this team, with this coach, would go this far. And if all of this has happened until now, maybe it is even possible to believe that her story in Europe is not over yet.

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