Hapoel Beersheba striker Ben Sahar looks to continue his prolific form when the reigning Israeli champion visits Lugano tonight in Europa League action in Switzerland..
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
After finally snapping its European road losing streak in its last Europa League match, Hapoel Beersheba enters Thursday’s showdown with Lugano in Switzerland knowing anything but a victory could end its hopes of qualifying for the knockout rounds.
Beersheba’s 1-1 draw with Steaua Bucharest in Romania moved it to four points from four matches in Group G, six back of leader Steaua, but only two behind Viktoria Plzen in second place, which will also ultimately lead to qualification for the round-of-32.
Beersheba hosts Plzen in its final group game in two weeks, but that match will be of little importance should the Israeli champion fail to win in Switzerland and the Czechs beat Bucharest at home.
Beersheba had lost three straight road games in European competition before drawing with Steaua, falling to Ludogorets in Bulgaria and Maribor in Slovenia in Champions League qualifying before losing 3-1 at Plzen.
Hapoel’s record away from home since it made its return to European play in 2014 after 17 years out of continental competitions is nothing short of dismal. Beersheba has won only two of 14 roads games in the Champions League and Europa League over the past four seasons, beating Honved in Hungary in the Champions League qualifiers earlier this season and stunning Inter Milan at San Siro in the Europa groups last season.
Beersheba registered its fifth straight win in the Premier League on Saturday, defeating Hapoel Acre 3-1 to draw level with Hapoel Haifa at the top of the standings.
With the match against Lugano in mind, Beersheba coach Barak Bachar rotated his lineup against Acre. Bachar is expected to change his entire back four from the win on Saturday, with Dor Elo, Loai Taha, Matan Ohayon and Oren Bitton to make way for Ben Bitton, Miguel Vitor, Hatem Abd Elhamed and Mihaly Korhut.
Striker Ben Sahar is expected to start up front yet again after taking his tally to five goals in five matches over all competitions with a brace in Saturday’s victory over Acre.
“We didn’t get the league campaign off to the greatest start, but we aren’t machines,” said Sahar. “We are looking better with every match.
We are now tied for first place in the league and I hope we can build on this against Lugano. This is a do-or-die match and we will give our all.”
Maccabi Tel Aviv will also be in Europa League action on Thursday when it hosts Slavia Prague in Netanya, although the yellow-and-blue has nothing to play for, losing any chance of progressing with the 1-0 loss to Astana.
Maccabi sits bottom of Group A with a single point and has yet to score a goal in the group stage.
“We had our chances especially in the last game, not to score one, but two or three or four,” said Maccabi coach Jordi Cruyff. “At the moment we haven’t managed to do that and it is something we are not comfortable with and for sure it is something we want to repair.”
Cruyff insisted his team has plenty to play for against Slavia.
“It is a very important game because we need the coefficient points and also for our own honor and pride,” he explained.