Ironi Kiryat Shmona and coach Gili Landau unexpectedly parted ways on Wednesday as the team made its final preparations to host French powerhouse Olympique Lyon in its second Europa League Group I match on Thursday.

Landau was surprisingly appointed by owner Izzy Sheratzky to guide the team in place of Ran Ben-Shimon ahead of this season, but his short tenure ended in acrimony on Wednesday.

“Due to personal and fundamental differences, which are not professional or financial, Izzy Sheratzky and Gili Landau mutually decided to part ways,” a Kiryat Shmona press release read.

Just last Thursday, Sheratzky wrote a letter to the fans, published on the club’s website, claiming that Kiryat Shmona is experiencing its best ever season.

Despite having Ben-Shimon’s big shoes to fill after Kiryat Shmona won an historic championship last season, Landau quickly settled at the club and the team came tantalizingly close to qualifying for the Champions League group stage, losing to BATE Borisov in the playoffs.

Nevertheless, it still secured a berth in the Europa League group stage and recorded a commendable 1-1 draw at Athletic Bilbao in its first group game two weeks ago.

After winning its first two Premier League matches, Kiryat Shmona picked up just a single point from its past three games, but the reason for the split is believed to be the growing rift between Landau and several of the players.

Landau refused to go into details regarding his departure on Wednesday.

“We are on the eve of an important match against Lyon and therefore I will postpone my response until Friday.

This is an excellent chance to wish the team good luck in the match,” Landau said.

Landau’s assistant and former Kiryat Shmona player Barak Bachar will guide the team against Lyon at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium in Haifa on Thursday.

Bachar claimed to be surprised by the latest developments, but neither he nor captain Salah Hasarma seemed to be too upset about Landau’s exit when speaking in Wednesday’s press conference.

“Both I and the players were surprised to hear the news,” Bachar said.

“I am the coach for the moment and I’m feeling good. I’ve been at this club as a player and a coach for the past nine years and this is an excellent opportunity for me to give something back to the club.”

Bachar doesn’t believe Landau’s departure will have any effect on the team’s preparations for Thursday.

“We are extremely ready for this match and Gili leaving shouldn’t have any influence,” Bachar said. “I have an excellent relationship with Gili. He allowed me to do a lot in training and really trusted me.

“The players have proven that in a single match they can lift their level the way they did in Bilbao and I certainly believe that we can record a good result on Thursday.”

Hasarma said that the team will be pleased with any result other than a defeat, adding that “this is a very important and difficult match and we have no time to think about what happened with Landau”.

Lyon beat Sparta Prague 2-1 in its first group match and enters Thursday’s match on the back of its first defeat of the season in the French league, losing 2-0 to Bordeaux on Sunday after opening its campaign with four wins and two draws.

Kiryat Shmona is unbeaten in its three continental home games this season, while Lyon has won only one of its last eight European away encounters, although many of those matches came against some of the world’s biggest clubs, with the French side playing in the Champions League for 12 consecutive years until this season.

“We have no intention of taking Kiryat Shmona lightly. We know we will be facing a strong team which drew with Bilbao,” said Lyon coach Remi Garde.

“The departure of the coach could make matters more difficult for Kiryat Shmona, but it also might bring about a new dynamic which could work to their advantage.”

Hapoel Tel Aviv has also undergone a coaching change since its Europa League group opener, with Yossi Abuksis taking the place of the ailing Nitzan Shirazi last week.

Hapoel beat Bnei Sakhnin 1-0 in Abuksis’s first match in charge of the team on Saturday, but its performance was disappointing once more, coming on the back of its lackluster displays in the 1-0 Premier League defeat to Hapoel Ramat Hasharon and the 3-0 home humbling at the hands of Atletico Madrid in its Group B opener two weeks ago.

Tel Aviv visits Academica de Coimbra of Portugal on Thursday, with the Portuguese team losing 3-1 at Viktoria Plzen of the Czech Republic in its first group game.

Academica, which prior to this season had not played in Europe since 1971, is unbeaten after five matches of local league play, but it has recorded just one win, drawing four times.

“We are aiming to advance to the round of 32 from this group and after losing at home to Atletico, which is the natural favorite to win the group, we will be battling the Portuguese and the Czechs for second place,” said Hapoel midfielder Elroei Cohen, who will be hoping to figure in Hapoel’s 100th game in European competition.

“A road win will give us a massive advantage and we must do it. We need to step up our performance from our recent matches.”

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