The Maccabi Haifa soccer team beat renowned Italian side Juventus 2-0 in UEFA Champions League group play Tuesday behind a pair of goals from Omer Atzili, ending a nearly 20-year drought since the team last notched a win in the premier European soccer tournament.
The victory before some 30,000 ecstatic fans at Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa keeps alive a longshot bid for the team’s first-ever promotion past the Champions League group stage, though Barak Bakhar’s squad will need to overcome both the superstar-loaded Paris Saint-Germain and Portuguese perennials Benfica to do so.
Juventus, who have been below par in Italy’s Serie A this season but have twice won the Champions League, won their home match 3-1 last week, but this time Haifa dominated the pitch, jumping out to a lighting-fast lead after just seven minutes.
Midfielder Atzili outjumped the visiting defense to meet a cross from Pierre Cornud, and although he ducked his head just before making contact, the ball struck his back and headed toward the goal. Juventus goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny reached the ball but it slid through his outstretched fingers and went in near the post.
Maccabi had several more chances in quick succession, with Tjaronn Chery hitting the bar minutes later and Atzili later hooking a cross just wide of the goal.
The second goal came three minutes before halftime, as Atzili looked set to curl a left-footed shot inside the far post, but instead clipped it in at the near post with Szczesny rooted to his line.
Maccabi’s dominance continued, with Juventus only managing their first strike on goal seconds before halftime. Haifa goalie Joshua Cohen saved Dusan Vlahovic’s header from going into the net, keeping the visitors scoreless.
Juventus, which had lost midfielder Angel di Maria to a thigh problem in the 24th minute, pressed from the start of the second half, but Cohen saved a Daniele Rugani header flying toward the top corner.
He later saved shots from wingers Juan Cuadrado and Arkadiusz Milik, allowing Maccabi to hold onto its lead.
“Sometimes when you go to bed and close your eyes you think of moments like this,” Atzili said after the final whistle. “Now we have to think about the next match.”
Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said he felt “ashamed” of his side after the game.
“There is only silence after this bad result,” Allegri said. “We’re not talking here about technical or tactical questions, it is a question of heart and passion. We play too individually.”
Maccabi and Juventus are now tied with three points each at the bottom of Group H after four games. PSG and Benfica are knotted with 8 points apiece at the top of the group after drawing 1-1 for the second straight time Tuesday.
Maccabi will next face off against PSG in France on October 25. The Israeli team fell to the French powerhouse at home last month, though it briefly held the lead against Lionel Messi and Neymar’s squad, stunning fans and analysts alike. Its final game will come at home against Benfica on November 2.
Maccabi’s last win in the Champion’s League Group stage came on October 29, 2002, when it beat Manchester United 3-0. The win was the team’s second during that campaign, after also beating Olympiacos, but it still missed out on advancing to the Champions League knockout round.
Though technically home wins, Maccabi was forced to play international fixtures that year in Cyprus due to security concerns, making Tuesday’s match its first-ever Champions League victory at home.
The team also made the group stage in 2009, but failed to win a single match.