After netting a stunning volley in the first-leg 2-1 win over Maribor in the Champions League playoffs, Hapoel Beersheba forward Anthony Nwakaeme is one of the players coach Barak Bachar may choose to rest on Saturday when the defending champion begins its Premier League campaign against Maccabi Net.
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Hapoel Beersheba will shift its attention away from its Champions League dream for at least a couple of hours on Saturday when it opens its quest for a third straight Premier League championship with a home match against Maccabi Netanya at Turner Stadium.
Beersheba defeated Slovenian champion NK Maribor 2-1 at Turner in the first leg of the Champions League playoffs on Wednesday, opening a slender advantage ahead of next Tuesday’s return leg in Slovenia.
With arguably the most important match in club history only three days away, Beersheba coach Barak Bachar is expected to rotate his lineup on Saturday and rest many of the players that were part of the comeback-win over Maribor.
The last thing Bachar wants is to lose another key player to injury the way he did last week when Portuguese defender Miguel Vitor suffered knee ligament damage in the Super Cup victory over Bnei Yehuda.
Vitor’s absence was noticeable from the start on Wednesday, with Beersheba falling a goal down after some shambolic defending allowed Marcos Tavares to roll the ball into an empty net in the 10th minute.
Anthony Nawkaeme, who has carried Beersheba on his shoulders throughout the qualifying campaign, ensured Hapoel bounced back immediately, equalizing with a stunning volley from the edge of the box less than two minutes later.
Shir Tzedek gave the hosts a deserved lead on the brink of halftime with an accurate penalty and Beersheba is hoping the opportunities it missed to increase its lead in the second half won’t end up proving to be crucial.
“I’m pleased because it isn’t simple to come back from a goal down so convincingly,” said a confident Bachar.
“We deserved to win by a bigger margin, but this result should be enough for us to secure our progress next week.”
Beersheba is looking to become the fourth Israeli club to play in the Champions League group stage. Maccabi Tel Aviv was the last to do so in 2015/16, also reaching the group stage in 2004/05. Hapoel Tel Aviv qualified in 2010/11 and Maccabi Haifa has done so twice in the past (2002/03, 2009/10).
Despite the importance of next week’s second leg, Bachar insisted that Beersheba is not overlooking Saturday’s league opener and is desperate to start with a victory.
“We aren’t forgetting that you need to win the league to have a chance of qualifying for the Champions League,” added Bachar. “It is very important that we start with a win. We will assess the fitness of the players before deciding which lineup to use against Netanya.”
Netanya is back in the top flight after one season in the National League, gaining promotion in impressive fashion after beginning 2016/17 with a nine-point deduction for going into administration.
Three more matches will be played on Saturday. Haim Silvas makes his debut as the coach of Ironi Kiryat Shmona in Netanya against his former team Hapoel Ra’anana, which is guided by his former assistant Dudu Avraham.
Reuven Atar is back in the Premier League as the coach of Ashdod SC, which hosts Maccabi Petah Tikva. Petah Tikva, led by coach Kobi Refua, is aiming to build on last season’s impressive fourth-place finish.
Another coach making his return to the top flight is Nir Klinger, who is in charge of Hapoel Haifa, which hosts Yuval Naim’s Hapoel Ashkelon on Saturday.
On Sunday, Beitar Jerusalem visits Maccabi Tel Aviv. It remains to be seen who will guide Beitar, which has yet to appoint a replacement for coach Sharon Mimer, who was sacked on Wednesday.
Also Sunday, Bnei Sakhnin visits Hapoel Acre. Maccabi Haifa opens its season at Bnei Yehuda on Monday.On TV: Premier League Week 1:
Ashdod SC vs Maccabi Petah Tikva (live on Sport 4 at 5:30 p.m.); Hapoel Ra’anana vs Ironi Kiryat Shmona (live on Sport5+Live at 6:45 p.m.); Hapoel Haifa vs Hapoel Ashkelon (live on Sport 2 at 7 p.m.); Hapoel Beersheba vs Maccabi Netanya (live on Sport 4 at 8 p.m.)