Hapoel Beersheba defender Miguel Vitor is expected to finally make his longawaited return from injury tonight in Europa League play against Steaua Bucharest in Romania..
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Despite losing two of their first three Europa League group games, Hapoel Beersheba and Maccabi Tel Aviv still have everything to play for as they begin the second half of their campaigns.
Beersheba has lost two straight continental matches since defeating Lugano 2-1 in its opener, but is nevertheless tied on three points with both Lugano and Viktoria Plzen for second place which will lead to the round of 32.
Beersheba, which is aiming to reach the knockout rounds of the competition for a second straight year, visits group leader Steaua Bucharest on Thursday after losing to the Romanians 2-1 at Turner Stadium two weeks ago. Steaua is on course to win the group after triumphing in all three of its matches to date.
Maccabi Tel Aviv hosts Astana in Netanya on Thursday, looking to avenge the humbling 4-0 loss in Kazakhstan two weeks ago.
Maccabi is bottom of its group with a single point and a combined goal difference of 0-5. But the yellow-and-blue trails Astana by just three points, with group leaders Slavia Prague and Villarreal only one more point further in front.
“For us this is a must-win game if we want to qualify for the next round,” said Maccabi coach Jordi Cruyff. “We have two home matches coming up and we need to take six points.”
Beersheba has gotten its Premier League title defense back on track with five wins from its past six matches, but it will need to improve its continental road record over the next three weeks to have a chance of a top-two finish.
Beersheba, which also visits Lugano in three weeks, has lost three straight road games in European competition, falling to Ludogorets in Bulgaria and Maribor in Slovenia in Champions League qualifying before losing 3-1 at Viktoria Plzen in the Europa League.
“We were the better team despite losing to Steaua two weeks ago, but we conceded goals we shouldn’t have,” said Beersheba coach Barak Bachar, whose team has won just one of its past seven away games in Europe stretching back to last season.
Bachar is hoping to welcome back Portuguese defender Miguel Vitor, who has been out injured since August. Vitor signed a new contract at the club until 2021 on Wednesday.