Beitar Jerusalem midfielder Omer Atzili.
(photo credit: ERAN LUF)
While he awaits the arbitrator’s decision regarding his future, Omer Atzili has almost single- handedly led Beitar Jerusalem to what is arguably its most successful European campaign in club history.
The striker, who celebrated his 23rd birthday on Wednesday, has been looking to leave Beitar since falling out with owner Eli Tabib towards the end of last season following bitter contract negotiations which ended in stalemate. Atzili is signed until the end of 2016/17, but Beitar is desperate to extend his deal and keep him at the club for as long as possible while also making sure he doesn’t leave for free at the end of the season.
Such was the acrimony between the sides that at one stage Tabib ordered then coach Slobodan Drapic to leave the player off the team until the matter is resolved.
It never was as Atzili refused to cave in, and an arbitration process was initiated.
A decision regarding the terms under which Atzili will be allowed to leave is expected over the next couple of weeks, but in the meantime he has ensured Beitar has won two consecutive continental ties for the first time ever in what is its ninth appearance in European competition.
Aztili scored the only goal in the 1-0 aggregate win over Sloboda Tuzla of Bosnia in the first qualifying round before netting all three of his team’s goals in the second round tie versus Omonia Nicosia, including two in the 3-2 defeat in Cyprus last week that secured Jerusalem’s progress on away goals.
Atzili looks to continue his rich vein of form when Beitar visits Jelgava of Latvia in the first leg of the third qualifying round on Thursday. Jelgava advanced to the third round with a 3-0 second-leg win over Slovan Bratislava of Slovakia.
Beitar coach Ran Ben-Shimon is pressuring Tabib to reach a compromise with Atzili, who has refused to speak to the media since the start of the arbitration proceedings.
“Atzili is an amazing kid and he still has a lot of room for improvement,” said Ben-Shimon. “We are still not at 100 percent, so I’m proud of my players and the fact that we progressed.”
Maccabi Tel Aviv will also be in action in the third qualifying round on Thursday when it visits Pandurii Targu Jiu of Romania.
Maccabi required an 86th-minute winner from Gal Alberman to claim a 2-1 victory in the second leg of the second qualifying round over Kairat Almaty of Kazakhstan, securing a 3-2 triumph on aggregate.
Maccabi’s latest signing, Argentinian Ezequiel Oscar Scarione, could make his debut on Thursday after joining on a free transfer from Turkish outfit Kasimpasa last week. The 31-year-old midfielder was brought in to help fill the void left by Eran Zahavi after scoring 40 league goals in 94 appearances for Kasimpasa over the past three seasons, being coached between October 2012 and March 2015 by current Maccabi boss Shota Arveladze.
Scarione was also being pursued by some of Istanbul’s big clubs, but the recent failed coup in Turkey and the unrest in the country worked in Maccabi’s favor, convincing the Argentinian it was time to move on.
“There is no question that this won’t be an easy task and this is a tough opponent,” said Maccabi defender Eitan Tibi ahead of the team’s departure for Romania.
“It’s a team that we don’t really know that much about, but we are ready to go.
I’ve played many European matches since I’ve been with Maccabi and every game is unique in its own way. It will be tough but we’re coming to win the contest.”