By Ofer Ronen-Abels at Ramat Gan stadium
Barukh Dego scored two historic goals in the space of nine second-half minutes as Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC recorded their first-ever victory in the UEFA Champions League by defeating AFC Ajax 2-1. The Israeli side survived a late rally from their Dutch opponents to secure three Group C points.
The 18,054 crowd saw Maccabi keep alive their slim hopes of advancing to the last 16 and pulled them level with Ajax on three points. It was Dego’s two goals, on 49 and 57 minutes, that proved crucial, despite a late Ajax goal from Daniel De Ridder.
Maccabi coach Nir Klinger made two surprise changes to his starting lineup as he chose to drop John Pantsil and Bruno Reis to the bench. Kobi Moosa made his first Champions League appearance at right-back for Pantsil while Moshe Mishaelof stepped in to the centre of midfield. Klinger added attacking initiative to his 4-5-1 formation with Dego in the centre and Erez Mesika and Liran Cohen on the wings.
Ajax counterpart Ronald Koeman was forced to make two changes as Maarten Stekelenburg stood in for Bogdan Lobont in goal while Maxwell was replaced by Zdenek Grygera at left-back. Within 70 seconds of the start his side nearly replicated the early goal they scored at home against Maccabi on Matchday 3 as Rafael van der Vaart flashed a header wide following Wesley Sneijder's corner.
In the eleventh minute, however, Dego, one of smallest players on the pitch, headed Mesika's corner against the post and two minutes later Maccabi bettered their previous attempt as Mishaelof hit the back of the net - only for the home side's celebrations to be short-lived as Mesika's corner was ruled to have crossed the byline and the goal was disallowed.
Ishmael Addo then tried catching Stekelenburg off his line with an ambitious shot from the halfway line, but the tall Dutch keeper recovered in time to collect the ball with ease. Then, in the 33rd minute, Liran Srauber's superb save denied Van der Vaart after he was released by Mauro Rosales.
Dego, thriving in his role, was proving Maccabi's key playmaker as time after time he instigated counterattacks, but Van der Vaart had the final chance of the first half as a shot in the 44th minute deflected off target.
With no changes at half-time, it seemed as if only one team emerged from the dressing room determined to score, and that was Maccabi. Four minutes after the restart Avi Strool sent a long ball from the halfway line which was nodded by Addo into the path of Dego. The diminutive forward beat his marker and sent a toe-poke rocketing into the net.
Then, in the 57th minute, Maccabi doubled the score. John Heitinga sent a weak back-pass to Stekelenburg which saw Dego chase the ball and put the keeper under pressure. Dego's persistence paid off as the custodian's clearance deflected off his body and bounced into the goal for his second on the night.
De Ridder halved the deficit in the 88th minute. Sneijder's powerful low drive deflected off his colleague to beat Strauber low to the corner and prompt a late Ajax siege. But Oren Zitoni's last-minute shot deflected off a defender over the crossbar for a corner before four nervous minutes of added time ended in celebrations for the home side.