Just champion as super Zahavi realises a dream

Big boys are waiting after Maccabi Tel Aviv finally make it through to the group stage after an 11-year absence.


Bring on Barcelona, Juventus, Manchester City, Bayern Munich, Arsenal and Real Madrid!

That is the clarion cry from Maccabi Tel Aviv after they bravely battled their way back into the Champions League group stages after an 11-year absence with a 1-1 draw against Swiss giants
FC Basel.

After their 2-2 draw against Basel the previous week, the Israeli side went through on the away goals rule – and again it was Eran Zahavi who was the hero.

Having scored both goals in Switzerland, he netted in the 24th minute in the Bloomfield Stadium to cancel out Luca Zuffi's 11th-minute strike.

But nerves were on edge as Basel, who reached the last 16 of the tournament last season, fought hard for a goal to keep them in the tie and they nearly got it when Taulant Xhaka's shot from 15 yards out only missed the target by inches in the 65th minute, though Tel Aviv mid-fielder Dor Micha also squandered a simple chance to wrap up the game but fired wide with only the keeper to beat in the final minutes.

Zahavi who scored seven times in the qualifying tournament said: "This was a really fighting performance. It's fantastic and I'm so glad to have realised this dream for this club. The players here want to give everything and do so much to help one another. The club and the fans really deserve this."

Maccabi manager and former Watford boss Slavisa Jokanovic said: "I'm very proud of my lads and what they have achieved and they showed great character. This is an important day for us and an important day for Israeli football and all the fans. The important thing is that we are in Europe's important arena and I'm very happy and excited about what lays ahead for us."

Maccabi's owner, Canadian billionaire Mitch Goldhar said : "This is the biggest moment since I came to
Maccabi Tel Aviv. We've always prioritised domestic competitions, but now we also have to focus on Europe. That's what big clubs do and we'll have to get used to it. We have a long-term vision to fulfil and there is a long way to go. We are still not where I want the club to be but we will go forward one step at a time."

Former Premier League star Tal Ben Haim said: "I left Maccabi Tel Aviv for England in 2004 just before they qualified for the group stage for the first time, so to come back and help them to get there again is a dream for me.

"We gave a fighting performance that you don't often see from Israeli teams. The club has invested a lot of money and it's great to pay it back for the fans."

This is the sixth time that an Israeli team has reached the group stage of the Champions League and the first time since Hapoel Tel Aviv in 2010.

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