Maribor in the Champions League after 15 years

Maribor in the Champions League after 15 years


Review Hari Stefanatos

Slovenian champions Maribor pull out a sensational away win against Scottish champions Celtic in Glasgow on Tuesday that saw them through to the Champions League Group stages, with a 3-2 aggregate win, for the first time in 15 years.

The winning goal came from Maribor’s captain Marcos Tavares, who scored a wonderful goal by chipping a loose ball over the Celtic goalkeeper in the 74th minute. Up to that time the Slovenian champions had frustratingly failed to make good on their chances.

Ante Šimundža’s men entered the match very strong taking control of the pitch early on knowing that they needed an away goal to have a shot, after the clubs played out a 1-1 draw in Maribor last Wednesday, and tried to do just that with creative midfield play and defensive pressure that “choked” Celtic.

Maribor threatened first with Macedonian forward Agim Ibraimi in the 16th minute, but his strike from around 20 meters went slightly wide.

Celtic caused problems for Maribor through the air in the first match and defender Virgil van Dijk came close from a corner in the 22nd minute.

But it was Maribor that continued to create the bulk of the chances and in the 29th minute midfielder Mitja Viler found space in the Celtic box only to see his shot saved by Celtic goalkeeper Craig Gordon. The Celtic goalkeeper, who was the best man on the pitch, made another crucial save only moments later when he blocked Aleš Mertelj’s shot from 20 meters.

It would then be Maribor goalkeeper Jasmin Handanović’s turn to put on the heroics as Ronny Deila’s outfit found their game at last late in the first and early in the second.

Luck was with Maribor in the 56th minute as Callum McGregor tried to slot home a half volley from seven meters.

Celtic’s chance seemed to have waken Maribor’s players who started to gain meters in the middle of the pitch and created had a good chance to score, but midfielder Dare Vršič wasted it when he broke free down the left side of the box only to blast the shot directly at Gordon.

The “phantom” of Europa League began to hover over Maribor, but Tavares goal send it away when he swooped on a failed clearance from Celtic in the box to put one over the keeper.

Maribor wasted three goof chances to settle the deal after that, including a four-on-two break which ended with substitute Dejan Bohar fumbling the ball away, which gave Celtic the opportunity to take the game to the extra time as Virgil latched on to a pass early in added time with a strong strike only to see Handanović produce a wonderful stretch save.

After having to settle for the UEFA Europa League in the past two years, Maribor is returning to Europe’s top flight for the first time since 1999, their maiden appearance in the competition.

Šimundža, who was part of the 1999 Maribor team, becomes the first Slovenian to reach the Champions League both as a player and coach.

(Photo: NK Maribor FB)

(Source: Sloveniatimes)