Hapoel Beersheba hopes Anthony Nwakaeme (right) can find the target tonight, as the Israeli champion will likely need at least one second-leg score at home to overcome Olympiacos in the Champions League third qualifying round following last week’s scoreless draw to open the tie..
(photo credit: UDI ZITIAT)
Few people gave Hapoel Beersheba any chance of overcoming Olympiacos in the Champions League third qualifying round.
However, the Israeli champion enters Wednesday’s second leg with real belief in completing an upset and advancing to the final playoff round, and for good reason.
Beersheba proved it is more than capable of competing against Olympiacos in a 0-0 draw on the road in the first leg last week.
The Israeli champion knows a win at Turner Stadium on Wednesday would not only put it within touching distance of the prestigious group stage in its first season in the competition, but also guarantee the team continental play deep into the winter regardless of the outcome in the playoffs.
The 10 teams to lose in the Champions League playoffs will be handed automatic berths in the Europa League group stage. The losers in the Champions third qualifying round receive places in the Europa playoffs.
Beersheba entered the tie against Olympiacos as a firm underdog, with the six-time, reigning Greek champion aiming to reach the group stage for a sixth straight year. A disciplined display by Hapoel in the first leg left Olympiacos frustrated and put Beersheba in a promising position to win two straight ties in European competition for the first time in club history.
Beersheba is looking to become the sixth Israeli team to play in the Champions League group stage. 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).
“This is the most important game the club has faced in recent years,” said Beersheba coach Barak Bachar.
“Olympiacos is still clearly the favorite, but we believe in ourselves and think we can do it. We have a good chance.”
Beersheba announced on Tuesday that Bachar has signed a two-year contract extension that will keep him at the club until 2019. “I felt at home in Beersheba from my first few weeks at the club,” he said.
“I’m happy I was part of the historic championship and I will give my all so that we continue to progress and reach new highs.”
Bachar will make at least one change to the lineup which started in Athens, with defender William Soares leaving the team per his request following the first leg. Shir Tzedek, who is back from suspension, will take his place.
Bachar also has a decision to make regarding Romanian midfielder Ovidiu Hoban, who was suspended from the first leg, with his replacement Vova Broun being one of Beersheba’s best players last week.
Beersheba will make its final preparations for the match in Ashdod as UEFA regulations dictate that rival teams can’t stay at the same hotel.
Olympiacos is lodging in the city’s only suitable hotel.
“Olympiacos is still the favorite, but with our fans and the madness at Turner, we can do it,” said striker Ben Sahar, who came on as a substitute in the first leg. “Every player wants to play in a match like this, but we have a coach and he will decide.”
One player who seems all but certain to be left out once more is disgruntled midfielder Maor Buzaglo, who looks set to leave the club before the close of the summer transfer window.
“There is a lot of competition for places in the lineup and no player likes to be left out. But this is part of soccer and players need to act like professionals,” added Sahar in criticism directed at Buzaglo’s conduct. “A team needs to have a healthy dressing room and if a player is disappointed he should keep it to himself and show he deserves to play when he gets a chance.”