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Maccabi Tel Aviv, Zorya Luhansk united by football in time of conflict


Israeli club Maccabi Tel Aviv beat Zorya Luhansk of Ukraine 3-1 in Thursday's Europa Conference League tie in Lublin, Poland between two teams united in a time of conflict in their countries.

For Maccabi it was their first official match since the start of the Israel-Hamas conflict, after the first leg initially scheduled for October 26 was postponed to a later date. 

"Football is not that important when you compare it to reality," Maccabi captain Eran Zahavi, who carried an Israeli flag on to the field, told reporters. 

The Luhansk players also took to the pitch draped in Ukrainian flags, in front of a "Peace" banner displayed by UEFA.

The Maccabi players all wore black armbands in tribute to the victims of the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7. 

"It's good to see everyone in obviously difficult conditions," said former Irish football star Robbie Keane, who has coached Maccabi since last June.

The Maccabi players and staff only met fully last Sunday, as some of the foreign players had been authorised to leave the country at the start of the conflict. 

Their opponents Luhansk know well this state of forced exile amid the ongoing war with Russia.

"The war that started in Israel is horrible, we have been experiencing the same thing for nine years," said the Ukrainian club's coach Valeriy Kryventsov.

The team from Ukraine's Donbas region has not played at their home stadium since 2014, due to the bombing and then occupation of their ground by pro-Russian separatists. 

The Ukrainian team, exiled in Zaporizhzhia in the championship, host their European opponents in Lublin, nearly 1,300 kilometres from their home city.

A few hundred Luhansk supporters were still present in the stands in Poland to support their team.

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