UEFA EUROPA CONFERENCE LEAGUE MATCHDAY 5 – MACCABI TEL AVIV 0-1 LASK
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An 89th-minute Sascha Horvath winner secured LASK a monumental victory over group rivals Maccabi Tel Aviv at the Bloomfield Stadium on Matchday 5 of the UEFA Europa Conference League. In what was an action-packed and entertaining encounter with chances and disallowed goals at both ends, the Linzers improved significantly after the break and ultimately secured top spot in Group A – and qualification directly through to the last 16 of the competition – on account of their superior head-to-head record against the Israeli outfit.
LASK went into this clash as one of five clubs – along with opponents Maccabi, Basel, Gent and Qarabağ – already safely through to the knockout stages, but with the knowledge that a victory in Israel would see them cement top spot in the group with a game to spare and circumvent a potentially tricky Round of 32 tie against a third-placed team from the Europa League. With the personnel crisis slowly abating and more players now at his disposal, coach Andi Wieland made two changes to the side that faced Sturm Graz last weekend, drafting Felix Luckeneder and Florian Flecker into the back four in place of Philipp Wiesinger and Marvin Potzmann. Maccabi, Israel’s record champions with 23 titles, lined up in a 4-1-4-1 formation with Stipe Perica leading the line. Patrick van Leeuwen’s men had not played a game since drawing the Tel Aviv derby against rivals Hapoel 1-1 on 7 November and went into this match in ninth place in the 14-team Israeli Premier League, with 11 points from nine rounds.
Flares let off by the fervent home support in the opening minutes significantly impaired visibility and led to the game being briefly halted – but once it resumed, the passion in the stands was matched by the intensity on the pitch as both teams pressed fiercely and denied the other time and space on the ball. But that began to change as the quarter-hour mark approached, with Maccabi starting to enjoy longer spells of possession. And it was they who created the first real chance after 16 minutes, although Perica was unable to get a foot on Brandley Kuwas’ dangerous low ball across the face of goal. Mamoudou Karamoko then had a strike from 20 metres comfortably gathered by Daniel Peretz, whose opposite number Alexander Schlager subsequently made an important save on the half-hour mark to keep out a low shot from marauding right-back Andre Geraldes.
It seemed at this point as if Maccabi were willing to take more risks to get the win, perhaps surprising given that they already had the superior goal difference – the decisive criterion in determining top spot in the event the two teams finished the group stages level on points and with an equal head-to-head record. They were almost rewarded for their front-foot approach too, only for Eyal Golasa’s header from a Matan Hozez corner to rebound off the bar in the 38th minute. That kickstarted a flurry of chances, with Lukas Grgic firing over from range two minutes later. Next came arguably the biggest chance of the first period as Schlager made a fantastic save to deny Perica in a one-on-one. Thomas Goiginger then came close at the other end, toe-poking Horvath’s pass wide as Peretz came charging off his line.
Wieland made his first change at the break, with Luckeneder making way for Wiesinger in a like-for-like switch. The Linzers were the livelier side in the opening minutes after the restart, and Goiginger almost scored in the 48th minute when he turned his marker in the box, only for another defender to put his body on the line and block the shot. At the other end, Perica forced Schlager into a save from a tight angle, the ball cannoning off the goalkeeper’s outstretched leg and just over the head of Hozez at the back post. Shiran Yeini then played a one-two with Perica before picking out the bottom corner, but the flag was correctly raised and the goal was disallowed. Wieland subsequently shuffled his pack once more, withdrawing Flecker and Hyun-Seok Hong for James Holland and Marvin Potzmann on the hour mark.
With a quarter of the game remaining, Horvath picked out Keito Nakamura on the left flank and the 21-year-old cut inside before unleashing a curling effort towards the back post that drew a brilliant sprawling save from Peretz in the Maccabi goal. Wiesinger then attempted to catch Peretz out with a cheeky free-kick from the half-way line, though it lacked the accuracy and dip required to beat the keeper from such a distance. Goiginger and Karamoko were subsequently replaced by Alexander Schmidt and Andreas Gruber, as LASK looked to capitalise on their second-half superiority in the closing stages. It looked as though they would be denied a late winner, however, after Nakamura’s goal was disallowed for offside. But just when it seemed time was running out, Horvath latched onto Schmidt’s through-ball and calmly slotted into the corner to give LASK a pivotal last-gasp win. The Linzers will next face Hartberg in the Bundesliga on Sunday, with their final group game at home to HJK to follow in a fortnight’s time.
By Lee Wingate from The Other Bundesliga (@OtherBundesliga)
Maccabi Tel Aviv: Peretz; Geraldes, Hernández, Piven, Saborit; Yeini; Kuwas (Guerrero 81’), Golasa (Shamir 84’), Kanichowsky, Hozez (Davidzada 69’); Perica (Khalaila 69’)
Subs: Baltaxa, Nachmias, Rikan, Shahar, Almog, Haim
LASK: Schlager; Flecker (Potzmann 61‘), Boller, Luckeneder (Wiesinger 46‘), Renner; Hong (Holland 60‘), Grgic; Goiginger (Gruber 77‘), Horvath, Nakamura; Karamoko (Schmidt 77‘)
Subs: Gebauer, Polster; Letard, Maresic, Balic, Monschein
Goal: Horvath (89‘)