Hapoel Beersheba striker Elyaniv Barda (center) couldn’t find the back of the net in last night’s 1-1 draw against Maccabi Haifa at Turner Stadium.Hapoel Beersheba striker Elyaniv Barda (center) couldn’t find the back of the net in last night’s 1-1 draw against Maccabi Haifa at Turner Stadium..
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
With a place in the Champions League group stage seemingly out of reach, and a berth in the Europa League groups already guaranteed, Hapoel Beersheba enters Tuesday night’s playoff second leg against Scottish powerhouse Celtic with nothing to lose.
Beersheba hosts the return leg of the tie at Turner Stadium, hoping to erase a 5-2 deficit from the first leg. A 3-0 or 4-1 win will be good enough for Beersheba to advance to the groups thanks to its two away goals from the first leg.
But despite what seems like an almost impossible challenge, Hapoel coach Barak Bachar is urging his players to believe.
“In soccer anything is possible,” Bachar said.
“We will do everything in order to mount a comeback. We mustn’t think about the score. We need to try and play well and try to win and then see how the match develops.”
Beersheba trailed 3-0 following a nightmare first half in Celtic Park, but two goals within two minutes courtesy of Lucio (55) and Maor Melikson (57) gave the Israeli champion real hope of registering an upset.
However, Beersheba would concede twice more in the 73rd and 85th minutes, leaving its dream of becoming the sixth Israeli team to play in the Champions League group stage in tatters.
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Maccabi Tel Aviv qualified last season for the second time in club history (2004/05, 2015/16), with Hapoel Tel Aviv reaching the prestigious stage in 2010/11 and Maccabi Haifa doing so twice in the past (2002/03, 2009/10).
“We had plenty to learn from the first leg and we will try and correct those mistakes at Turner,” said Bachar. “We know all about Celtic’s strengths and weaknesses and we will try to make the most of them.
“We want to win the game regardless of the result. Obviously we would have liked to enter the second leg in a better position. We know what we need to do but clearly it will be difficult. We will try and play our game and represent Beersheba with honor.”
Beersheba has already secured itself continental soccer deep into the winter, as the losers in the playoffs receive a place in the Europa League group stage.
As a result, Beersheba is already guaranteed 5.4 million euro from UEFA prize money alone.
Celtic is aiming to reach the group stage for the first time since 2014 and manager Brendan Rodgers is confident his side will complete the mission on Tuesday.
“It has been a real good week in terms of performance and results but every game is different,” Rodgers said. “We have put ourselves in a wonderful position to achieve a great goal and let’s hope we can do it.”
Midfielder Maor Melikson, who will serve as captain in the absence of the injured Elyaniv Barda, said Beersheba will not give up without a fight.
“We believe in ourselves and can’t wait for the match to begin,” said Melikson. “We don’t like to lose and we want to compensate the fans for what happened last week.”
On TV: Champions League playoffs second-leg: Hapoel Beersheba vs Celtic FC (Celtic leads 5-2 from first leg) (live on Sport5 at 9:45 p.m.)
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