By Ofer Ronen-Abels at the Ramat Gan stadium
Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC became the first team to score against Juventus FC in this season's group stage but an equaliser from Alessandro Del Piero denied them a place in the UEFA Cup.
Out of Europe
Del Piero struck in the 71st minute to cancel out Barukh Dego's first-half penalty, which until then had looked like being enough to give Nir Klinger's side a famous victory. With AFC Ajax earning a 2-2 draw at home against FC Bayern München, it is the Dutch club and not Maccabi who finished in the all-important third place because of the teams' head-to-head record.
Maccabi coach Klinger left regular goalkeeper Liran Strauber on the bench to give Gal Nir his European debut. Marcio Giovanini returned to the defence after a knee injury alongside Avi Strool and Moshe Mishaelof. Bruno Reis, Erez Mesika and Ishmael Addo were all left out while Emile Mbamba was named as the lone striker in a defensive 4-5-1 formation.
Fabio Capello also made changes as he dropped Gianluigi Buffon to give Antonio Chimenti a chance in goal. Ciro Ferrara, Igor Tudor and Gianluca Zambrotta also sat out as did in-form striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic. However, Pavel Nedved recovered from flu to return to the midfield alongside Alessio Tacchinardi and Manuele Blasi while Del Piero and Marcelo Zalayeta led the attack.
Nedved was quickly into his stride as Juve applied early pressure. The Czech midfield player tested Nir with a low free-kick in the sixth minute before shooting wide less than 60 seconds later. While the Israeli side were looking solid in the centre, Juventus were able to apply constant pressure along the wings through Nedved and Olivier Kapo. In the 20th minute, Gianluca Pessotto met Kapo's cross with a firm shot but Nir was able to save and then deny Del Piero from the rebound.
Dego on target
Despite Juve's dominance, the hosts took the lead just before the half-hour mark. Liran Cohen lofted the ball into the area toward Mbamba, only for Jonathan Zebina to foul the Cameroonian. From the resultant penalty, Dego kept his cool to score his third goal of the group stage and become the first man to breach the Juve defence in six European games.
On the up
Buoyed by the goal, Maccabi naturally grew in confidence and, before half-time, Salem Abo Siam tried his luck with a long-range effort before Tamir Cohen saw his free-kick go just wide. Capello introduced Stephen Appiah for Blasi at the interval and within five minutes, the Ghanaian was forcing a diving save from Nir. Nedved was then denied a shot at goal by a timely tackle. At the other end, Liran Cohen and Dego were still giving the visitors plenty to think about, with Del Piero needing to be alert to head a corner off the line.
However, Del Piero was soon making a difference at the other end. The Juve captain levelled the score with ease after latching on to Zalayeta's neat headed knockdown. Both coaches made late changes with Klinger introducing Reis, Addo and then Mesika in search of the victory they needed to reach the UEFA Cup. However, it was defender Giovanini that could have won it right at the death only for Chimenti to pull off a last-gasp save from his header.