Beitar Jerusalem midfielder Georginho (left) is set to renew his battle with Botev Plovdiv’s Cvetomir Panov when the teams meet tonight in Bulgaria in the second leg of the Europa League second qualifying round.
(photo credit: UDI ZITIAT)
Maccabi Tel Aviv is well-positioned to move a step closer to a second straight appearance in the Europa League group stage on Thursday night, while Beitar Jerusalem’s hopes of finally putting together an extended continental campaign are hanging by a thread.
Bnei Yehuda will also be in action on Thursday, hosting Trencin of Slovakia after drawing 1-1 on the road in the first leg.
Beitar’s first leg against Botev Plovdiv of Bulgaria also ended in a 1-1 stalemate, a bitterly disappointing result for Sharon Mimer’s team, which was aiming to open a significant advantage ahead of Thursday’s return leg in Bulgaria.
Beitar got off to an ideal start in Petah Tikva last week, breaking the deadlock through Tal Kahila’s header in the 11th minute. Jerusalem had plenty of chances to increase its lead, but couldn’t find the back of the net again and Plovdiv equalized through Serkan Yusein in the 73rd minute.
“I always try to focus on the positives and the fact that we reached so many scoring opportunities shows we are a good offensive team,” said Mimer, who wants to became the first coach to guide Beitar to the group stage of a European competition.
“Had we converted 30 percent of our chances everything would have been different.
But when you don’t score and then concede it doesn’t look good. I’d be happy to settle for a repeat of the performance in the first match in the second leg in Bulgaria. I’m sure that if that happens we will win the game.”
Maccabi Tel Aviv, which is aiming to advance through four qualifying rounds for a second straight season, was far from impressive in the first leg against KR Reykjavik of Iceland. But the 3-1 win in Netanya should be enough to ensure the yellow-and-blue secures its progress on Thursday.
Maccabi looked to be in real trouble when Palmi Palmason gave the visitors the lead in the 58th minute last week.
But the introduction of strikers Aaron Schoenfeld and Barak Itzhaki off the bench by coach Jordi Cruyff helped spark a comeback, with the former equalizing in the 65th minute. Maccabi’s Icelandic striker Vidar Orn Kjartansson (79) moved the hosts in front and three minutes later new signing Omer Atzily netted his first goal for the team to open a two-goal cushion Maccabi should have little trouble maintaining.
“Any time you give up an away goal it’s always dangerous,” said Cruyff, who could give his newest signing Cristian Battocchio his debut on Thursday. “We are in a rebuilding process and lost a number of players and are signing others.
Once the group is complete we will see more competition in the squad. Once the transfer period is over we will be where we need to be. I feel confident about that.”
Bnei Yehuda took a third-minute lead through Nerijus Valskis in Slovakia last week and is optimistic of advancing on Thursday despite Jakub Paur’s 59th-minute equalizer .
“We got the result we wanted in the first leg and now we have the opportunity to decide the tie at home,” said Bnei Yehuda coach Yossi Abuksis ahead of the return leg in Petah Tikva.
While Bnei Yehuda is expecting to progress on Thursday, going any further in the competition will require a massive upset, with Russian powerhouse Zenit St.
Petersburg awaiting the winner in the third qualifying round.
Should Maccabi avoid an upset in Iceland, it will next come up against the winner of the tie between Panionios of Greece and Gorica of Slovenia. Panionios registered a 2-0 win in the first leg in Greece.
Maritimo of Portugal will be Beitar’s opponent in the next round should Jerusalem overcome Plovdiv.