After a frustrating regular season, Hapoel Beersheba midfielder Maor Melikson will aim to kick-start his campaign when his team’s gets the championship playoffs underway on Saturday against Maccabi Petah Tikva..
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Hapoel Beersheba’s European campaign is in danger of ending far earlier than it had hoped when it faces Honved in Budapest on Wednesday night in the second leg of their Champions League second qualifying round tie.
A 2-1 win in the first leg at Turner Stadium last week gives the two-time reigning Israeli champion an important edge. However, it is not the significant lead Beersheba had planned to bring to the return leg in Hungary, leaving it with plenty of work to do to reach the next round.
The Hungarians only need a 1-0 win on Wednesday in order to progress to the next stage thanks to their away goal at Turner. The match will be played in front of empty stands, with Honved being punished by UEFA for racist chanting by its fans.
Beersheba is aiming to reach the Champions League group stage for the first time in club history after missing out by a single goal last season. A 5-2 first-leg defeat to Celtic of Scotland in the final playoff round was too much for Hapoel to overcome, with the 2-0 win in the return leg leaving it just short. Beersheba received a place in the Europa League group stage as a consolation and stunningly finished ahead of both Inter Milan and Southampton to advance to the round of 32 before being knocked out by Besiktas of Turkey.
After last season’s continental campaign lasted over seven months, Beersheba could find itself out of Europe following a mere two weeks with a defeat in Budapest. By overcoming Honved, Beersheba will not only book its place in the Champions League third qualifying round, but will also ensure it will have something to fall back on should it be sent packing in the next round. The losers in the Champions League third qualifying round are awarded a place in the Europa League playoffs.
The draw for the third qualifying round already took place last Friday, with Beersheba avoiding the likes of Olympiacos, Salzburg and Celtic.
Hapoel was paired with the winner of the tie between Zalgiris Vilnius of Lithuania and Ludogorets of Bulgaria.
Ludogorets has played in the Champions League group stage in two of the past three seasons, while Zalgiris has never reached the group stage of a continental competition.
Zalgiris claimed a surprise 2-1 win at home in the first leg last week.
But before it starts thinking of the next round, Beersheba needs to complete the job against Honved, which proved it is far from a pushover in the first leg last week.
“We have nothing to lose in the second leg,” said Honved’s Dutch coach Erik van der Meer. “We need to score and we have our fate in our own hands.
But we also must make sure we don’t make mistakes and concede.”
Portuguese defender Miguel Vitor gave Beersheba the lead in the 35th minute of the first leg and the hosts were in an ideal position seven minutes into the second half after Dan Einbinder found the back of the net with an exquisite back-heel finish on his debut.
But matters became a whole lot more complicated for Beersheba in the 63rd minute, with Davide Lanzafame scoring a precious away goal for Honved.
“There is no point in talking about our chances because all we need to think about is making sure we are ready for a tough match,” said Beersheba coach Barak Bachar.
“They are a dangerous and strong team and we expected that. We feel we could have registered a better result in the first leg, but the most important thing is that we won. No team can perform at its best at this stage of the season, but we need to make up for that by putting our opponent under pressure and being aggressive.” On TV: Champions League second qualifying round second leg: Budapest Honved vs Hapoel Beersheba (Beersheba leads 2-1 from 1st leg) (live on Sport 1 at 10 p.m.)