Maccabi Haifa coach Arik Benado is optimistic his team will wrap up its progress
to the Europa League group stage on Thursday night when it visits Astra of
Romania in the second leg of the playoffs holding a 2-0 lead.
outplayed the Romanians in the first leg at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium last week and
could have won by a far greater margin, which would have all but rendered the
return leg as meaningless.
However, wastefulness in front of goal meant
that Haifa was forced to settle for a 2-0 win that gives Astra a fighting chance
Nevertheless, Haifa enters the second leg brimming with
confidence regarding its chances of reaching the Europa group stage for the
second time in three years.
Haifa has yet to concede a goal in
continental competition this season, crushing Xazar Lankaran 10-0 on aggregate
in the second qualifying round and beating FK Ventspils 3-0 in the third round
before defeating Astra 2-0 last week.
After winning its first four league
games to go top of the Romanian league, Astra followed up the loss to Haifa with
a home defeat to Petrolul Ploiesti in local play.
“Astra may not have
played as well in its past two matches, but this is still a very good team,”
said Benado on Wednesday.
“We will not sit back and settle for defending.
We will play the same way we always do. The pitch is drenched so we probably
won’t be seeing great soccer, but we will do our best to win.”
expected to implement the same lineup he used in the first leg, with veteran
midfielder Gustavo Boccoli, who sat out Sunday’s 3-1 Premier League win over
Ironi Kiryat Shmona, to return to the starting 11.
“We are not entering
the match with a defensive mindset,” said forward Yaniv Katan, who will also be
among the starters. “We are ready and will give our best to reach the group