Maccabi's Europe feat 'the high of highs' for Ben Haim

Maccabi Tel Aviv defender Tal Ben Haim was elated with the Israeli powerhouses' progression to the UEFA Champions League group stage.

Tal Ben Haim said Maccabi Tel Aviv's progression to the UEFA Champions League group stage for the first time since 2004 was a career highlight.

Tel Aviv's 1-1 second-leg draw at home to Basel on Tuesday saw them claim the tie on away goals, after the aggregate score ended 3-3.

Basel were on track for back-to-back group-stage appearances when they lead early via Luca Zuffi's goal in Tel Aviv, but Maccabi captain Eran Zahavi equalised midway through the first half.

Ben Haim exited Tel Aviv for Bolton Wanderers months before their only trip to the group stage of Europe's elite club tournament in 2004, but the 33-year-old is now looking forward to leading the Israeli champions against some of the world's best.

"This is the highlight of my career. I don't know what to say, there are no words," the defender said via Maccabi's website. 

"I felt like a little child when I heard the Champions League anthem both here and in Basel. 

"This is the high of the highs for me and now the fun is just beginning. 

"It's not just the players who played in the match that made the difference, it's the guys who moved up from the youth department, to Eran and the other veterans including the whole staff. 

"Everyone played their part as every cog in the machine is important and without one we couldn't have done what we did. 

"Any team that we get now will be amazing. 

"Of course I always dreamed of playing against Thierry Henry but I'm ready to face [Lionel] Messi as well."

Striker Barak Itzhaki said Maccabi's form under new boss Slavisa Jokanovic was remarkable, after the Serbian took over in mid-June.

"I remember [the qualifier against] Hibernians and it was a new start with a new coach," Itzhaki said. 

"We worked hard and we played a tactical match at the highest level that there is. I'm on the top of the world."