After having to run for shelter time and again during its training sessions over the past week, Maccabi Tel Aviv could finally turn its full focus to preparing for Tuesday’s Champions League second qualifying round first leg against Santa Coloma of Andorra after arriving in Barcelona on Sunday.
Maccabi trained in Barcelona on Sunday evening and will make the three-hour bus journey to the small mountainous principality in the Pyrenees on the French-Spanish border on Monday morning.
“It is not an ideal way to prepare for a game but that is what we have and we need to be prepared,” said Maccabi’s Spanish coach Oscar Garcia, who also guided the team during Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012.
“When you have experience before, then you know what is happening. But the most important thing is that the players are focused and I think they are and I think we are prepared. My family knew that this could happen. It is happening now and I hope it finishes as soon as possible.”
The first leg of the tie against the Andorrans was scheduled to take place at Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv, but due to the ongoing rocket fire from Gaza, Maccabi and Santa Coloma agreed to exchange venues for the home and away legs.
Nevertheless, UEFA has already requested that Maccabi arrange an alternative venue for the second leg, which is scheduled to be played next Tuesday, should there be no improvement in the security situation in Israel.
Maccabi has already inquired about playing the game in Nicosia, Cyprus, where Israeli sides hosted matches during the Second Intifada.
Hapoel Tel Aviv and Hapoel Beersheba were also asked to have a stadium abroad on standby for the second legs of their Europa League second qualifying round ties next Thursday.
Both clubs also exchanged home-court with their opponents and will play their first legs on the road this Thursday.
Tel Aviv visits Astana of Kazakhstan while Beersheba faces RNK Split in Croatia.
Tel Aviv, which will leave for Kazakhstan on Monday, announced on Sunday that captain Shay Abutbul has signed a three-year contract extension. Abutbul agreed to take a pay cut to help the club deal with its financial struggles.
“Hapoel Tel Aviv is everything for me,” he said. “I have always happily assisted the club when I’ve needed to. We have a good balanced team and most of the players have returned from last season. We are working hard ahead of Thursday.”
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