Hapoel Beersheba midfielder Maor Melikson (left) is set to be handled roughly by Maribor players, including Martin Milec, once more tonight when the teams clash in the second leg of the Champions League playoffs in Slovenia..
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Hapoel Beersheba coach Barak Bachar has stressed his point time and again over the past week.
Seemingly whenever he has had the opportunity, Bachar has emphasized that Tuesday night’s Champions League playoff second leg at NK Maribor is “the most important match in the club’s history.”
Since Bachar used the term for the first time following the 2-1 win over the Slovenians in the first leg at Turner Stadium last week, both he and his players have repeated it whenever faced with a microphone, so much so that it already sounded like a cliché in Monday’s pre-match press conference.
Perhaps that was Bachar’s intention all along: Stress the importance of the match to such an extent that the players will treat it as a given and won’t be in danger of buckling under the pressure.
Regardless, Bachar is certainly not exaggerating the significance of the encounter that could have a major impact on the club’s fortunes for years to come.
Beersheba has already secured itself a big pay day of around 5.6 million euro from UEFA prize money alone as even should it be knocked out of the Champions League on Tuesday it will receive a place in the Europa League group stage.
The income from UEFA will more than double if Hapoel reaches the group stage of the Champions League, while just as important, its reputation in Europe will increase tenfold.
It would be the latest, and greatest, chapter in the club’s fantastic rise from a perennial underachiever to the top team in the country.
A place in the group stage will help cement Beersheba’s status as the leading force in local soccer. Beersheba is looking to become the fourth Israeli club to play in the Champions League group stage.
Maccabi Tel Aviv was the last to do so, in 2015/16, also reaching the group stage in 2004/05. Hapoel Tel Aviv qualified in 2010/11 and Maccabi Haifa has done so twice in the past (2002/03, 2009/10).
The fragile advantage from the first leg doesn’t leave Beersheba much room for error on Tuesday. Marcos Tavares made the most of some shambolic defending to give the Slovenians the lead in the 10th minute at Turner.
But Anthony Nawkaeme, who has carried Beersheba on his shoulders throughout the qualifying campaign, ensured Hapoel bounced back immediately, equalizing with a stunning volley from the edge of the box less than two minutes later.
Defender Shir Tzedek made up for his earlier mistake and gave the hosts a deserved lead on the brink of halftime with an accurate penalty and Beersheba is hoping the opportunities it missed to increase its lead in the second half won’t end up proving to be crucial.
“Obviously we are very excited. You can’t hide from the fact that this is one of the most important games of my career and I think the most important match in club history,” said Tzedek.
“We will make sure we are ready mentally so that we can focus on our job on the field. I hope we can complete the job on Tuesday and return home with a smile.”
Bachar has exuded confidence regarding Beersheba’s chances and he looked as focused as ever on Monday.
“Obviously we are all very excited as we understand the importance of this match,” said Bachar. “We need to focus on our play on the field to get the result we need and reach the group stage. I’m not sure which team is the favorite and it doesn’t matter.
The team that deserves to progress will prove it on the pitch.”