Hapoel Beersheba striker Ben Sahar (left) is still searching for his first goal of the 2016/17 campaign, and it could hardly come at a better time than tonight’s Champions League third qualifying round first leg against Olympiacos in Greece..
(photo credit: UDI ZITIAT)
After winning its first European tie in nearly two decades, and with a berth in the Europa League playoffs to fall back on, Hapoel Beersheba enters Wednesday night’s Champions League third qualifying round first leg at Greek giant Olympiacos almost pressure free.
Beersheba will be a firm underdog in Athens, with the six-time reigning Greek champion aiming to reach the group stage for a sixth straight year.
Nevertheless, Beersheba is determined to keep alive its Champions League dream, at least until it hosts the return leg next Wednesday.
In order to reach the group stage in its first season in the competition, Beersheba will need to overcome Olympiacos, as well as the final playoff round.
All the teams that will be knocked out in the third qualifying round will be handed a place in the Europa playoffs.
Beersheba had to dig deep to reach the third qualifying round, eking out a 0-0 draw at FC Sheriff Tiraspol in Moldova last week after registering a 3-2 win in the first leg of the second qualifying round at Turner Stadium.
Everyone on the team, as well as coach Barak Bachar, are well aware that a significant improvement from its performance against Sheriff is required for Beersheba to have any chance of beating Olympiacos.
Wednesday’s match will be the start of 15 hectic days for Beersheba.
The team plays Hapoel Ashkelon in its Toto Cup opener on Saturday before welcoming Olympiacos at Turner on Wednesday. It will then play three matches in five days, facing Beitar Jerusalem and Ashdod SC in the Toto Cup on Sunday and Tuesday before coming up against State Cup holder Maccabi Haifa in the Super Cup on Thursday.
Coach Barak Bachar is sure to make plenty of changes to his lineup from match to match, which will also likely ensure disgruntled midfielder Maor Buzaglo sees some action.
Nevertheless, Buzaglo is set to miss out on Wednesday’s big match, casting further doubt over his future at the club. After being unhappy with his role at the end of last season, Buzaglo was only convinced to remain at the club following a talk with Bachar during pre-season.
However, after being left out of the second leg against Sheriff, and with a place in the starting 11 unlikely against Olympiacos, his father Yakov announced on Tuesday that his son will be leaving the club. “Maor will leave Hapoel Beersheba after the tie with Olympiacos,” said Yakov Buzaglo, who is known for speaking his mind, not always with his son’s consent.
With midfielder Ovidiu Hoban suspended after receiving a red card late in the second leg against Sheriff, Yuval Shabtay or Vova Broun are set to start, with new Portuguese recruit Miguel Vitor to continue in the center of the defense after his impressive showing in Moldova.
Prior to last week, the last time Beersheba progressed in continental play was in the 1997/98 season when it overcame Zalgiris Vilnius of Lithuania in the qualifying round of the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup. It will be hoping there is no repeat of what followed next when it faces Olympiacos, with Beersheba suffering an embarrassingly memorable 14-1 aggregate defeat to Dutch side Roda 19 years ago, which included a 10-0 loss in the second leg on the road.
“We overcame a strong team in Sheriff, winning a tough tie,” said midfielder Maor Melikson, who is expected to retain his place in the starting lineup. “I know my teammates well and I believe that with them everything is possible, including against Olympiacos.”