Hapoel Beersheba will be missing several key players in Saturday’s match against Hapoel Tel Aviv, but should have forward Anthony Nwakaeme (left) available for the early-season Premier League showdown..
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
With its Champions League dream coming to an end and its Europa League group stage campaign to begin in three weeks, Hapoel Beersheba’s focus returns to its Premier League title defense on Saturday.
Beersheba visits Hapoel Tel Aviv after opening its local campaign with a 2-1 win over Hapoel Ra’anana last Saturday. That was followed by an extremely impressive 2-0 victory over Scottish powerhouse Celtic in the second leg of the Champions League playoffs on Tuesday.
Nevertheless, Beersheba still ended the match one goal shy of overturning the 5-2 defeat from the first leg in Glasgow the previous week and will discover on Friday who it faces in the Europa League groups, the consolation prize handed to all the losers in the playoffs.
Manchester United, AS Roma of Italy and Ajax of Holland are all potential opponents for Beersheba.
The win over Celtic came at a cost for the Israeli champion, with Maor Melikson suffering a groin injury and Brazilian striker Lucio having to be substituted in the 19th minute after accidentally being kicked in the head and briefly losing consciousness.
Both players are set to miss Saturday’s match, with midfielder John Ogu and defender Miguel Vitor to be rested after playing with minor injuries against Celtic.
Beersheba will also need to begin to get used to life without left-back Ofir Davidzada, who officially completed his move to Gent in Belgium following the playoffs.
The many absentees will test the depth of coach Barak Bachar’s squad, but Tel Aviv coach Eli Gutman would be more than happy to trade his troubles with those of the Beersheba boss.
Tel Aviv struggled in a 1-0 loss to Maccabi Haifa on Monday and there is no end in sight to its financial problems which severely restricted the team in its rebuilding process this summer. Beersheba is the last team Hapoel was hoping to face in its home debut at Petah Tikva, where it will be hosting matches this season due to the reconstruction of Bloomfield Stadium.
After beating Tel Aviv to start the season, Maccabi Haifa looks to make it two straight wins when it visits Bnei Sakhnin at Doha Stadium on Saturday.
Dutch striker Glynor Plet scored in the 58th minute on Monday to give Haifa a winning start to life under new coach Rene Meulensteen. The 52-year-old Dutchman, who served as Sir Alex Ferguson’s assistant at Manchester United between 2008 and 2013, showed he has no intention of lowering expectations when speaking after the match despite Haifa’s struggles over recent seasons.
“Yes, no doubt about it,” answered Meulensteen when asked if Haifa’s goal this season is to win the championship.
“The size of the club, the aspirations, the ambition, that is what it should be and that is why I’m here. My first impression of the players has been incredible and we are going to go from strength to strength.”
Also Saturday, Hapoel Haifa hosts Bnei Yehuda and Maccabi Petah Tikva visits Hapoel Ra’anana, with all four teams aiming for their first win of the campaign.
Maccabi Tel Aviv and Beitar Jerusalem will be in action on Sunday due to their participation in the Europa League. Maccabi, which visited Hajduk Split in the second leg of the playoffs on Thursday night, visits Ashdod SC. Beitar welcomes Ironi Kiryat Shmona after returning from France where it faced Saint-Etienne on Thursday night.
Meanwhile, following a tribunal process which lasted for months and ended with Beitar striker Omer Atzili’s value being set at 750,000 euro, the two parties are returning to the negotiation table.
Beitar announced on Thursday that it has handed the rising star an offer for a threeyear contract extension which will earn him 1.6 million euro.
The offer also includes a two million euro buy-out clause to leave for a European club, with the player to receive a portion of the transfer fee. Atzili is unlikely to accept the offer, with his main goal remaining to find a team in Europe before the close of the summer transfer window.
However, his representatives will continue to negotiate with Beitar in the coming days in case he doesn’t receive an appealing offer from abroad.