(photo credit: UDI ZITIAT)
Only a win will do for Hapoel Beersheba when it hosts Inter Milan at Turner Stadium in Europa League action on Thursday night, while Maccabi Tel Aviv visits Zenit Saint Petersburg with little to lose.
After opening its Group K campaign with a stunning 2-0 win at San Siro over Inter and then drawing 0-0 against Southampton of the English Premier League, Beersheba’s hopes of qualification suffered a significant blow with back-to-back defeats against Sparta Prague.
The 1-0 loss to the Czechs at Turner followed by the 2-0 defeat in Prague left Beersheba on four points, five points back of Sparta in first place and three points behind second place Southampton. Inter is bottom of the group with three points.
Inter drew 2-2 with AC Milan in Serie A action on Sunday in new manager Stefano Pioli’s first match in charge. Pioli will likely use the game against Beersheba to get a look at some of his bench players, with Inter needing an unlikely combination of results to qualify.
Despite the setbacks against Prague, Beersheba enters Thursday’s encounter brimming with confidence, registering its sixth straight Premier League victory on Saturday with a 5-1 win over Hapoel Haifa.
Beersheba, which visits Southampton in its final group match on December 8, has outscored its opponents 22-2 over the winning streak that began almost two months ago.
Maccabi Tel Aviv has also got four points from its first four matches in Group D, but unlike Beersheba is still well placed to qualify.
Maccabi drew 0-0 with AZ Alkmaar in its last Europa match, moving it to four points, tied with Dundalk in second place. Zenit has won all four of its games to date and has already clinched first place, with AZ on two points.
Maccabi’s fate will likely be decided in its final match against Dundalk in Netanya on December 8. A win over Dundalk by two goals in two weeks will send Maccabi through to the next round even should it lose to the perfect Zenit and Dundalk defeats AZ in Ireland later Thursday.
Maccabi will, however, be hoping to improve its position by surprising Zenit, especially after squandering a 3-0 lead to lose 4-3 when the teams met in Israel two months ago.
“We began our European campaign more than three months ago, playing eight matches in the qualifiers and scoring in all of them,” said Maccabi coach Shota Arveladze. “We have lost twice in the group stage, but we still have a good chance to qualify and I think we deserve it.”