For the first night of Europa League football this season, Israeli clubs Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Be’er Sheva, one for the right reason and for the completely wrong one, were the biggest story, eclipsing everything else that happened.
The right reason: This is the first season for Be’er Sheva in the Europa League group stage. This club won the Israeli league championship last season, their first in over 40 years. They lost in the playoff round of the Champions League qualifiers to Celtic, 5-4 on aggregate, dropping to the E. League group stage. They’re drawn in group K with Southampton, Inter and Sparta Prague. Their first match was away at the San Siro against Inter.
The thing about Inter is that this is a massive club trying to find its way back up again. All the championships and European Cups/Champions League titles don’t matter. Right now they’re a upper half team in the Serie A, nothing more. The San Siro looks like a giant abandoned factory, with very little to do with football due to the low attendance. It made the Israeli champions feel right at home, with 1000 fans travelling from Israel to see their club make history.
How big a history? Israeli teams have had big matches before. Maccabi Haifa, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Tel Aviv all have big wins against major European clubs over the years. For Be’er Sheva, this is something new. So after a cautious first half, Portuguese centre back Miguel Vitor took advantage of the poor Inter defending to stun the few fans in attendance, putting the visitors in front. Guess what: Be’er Sheva kept attacking, and a Maor Buzaglo free kick put them 2-0. Not some parking-the-bus upset. A genuine, dominant performance from complete underdogs, who were the better team tonight.
The wrong reason: Not as much of an introducion. Watching the video tells the story much better. But just to summarize: In the 70th minute, Haris Medunjanin scored a fantastic goal to give Maccabi Tel Aviv, playing at home, a 3-0 lead over Zenit St. Petersburg. A shocking result against the terrific Russian club, although weaker than in previous years. In the 77th minute, Aleksandr Kokorin got the ball rolling for Zenit. In the 94th minute? Luka Đorđević scored to complete an insane comeback, the greatest ever in the history of the competition.