Israeli clubs return to continental action

Hapoel Beersheba hosts Southampton • Maccabi Tel Aviv looks to rebound against Dundalk.

September 29, 2016 05:14
3 minute read.
After celebrating a monumental victory over Inter Milan at San Siro in its most recent Europa League

After celebrating a monumental victory over Inter Milan at San Siro in its most recent Europa League match, Hapoel Beersheba aims to register another upset when it hosts Southampton tonight at Turner Stadium.. (photo credit: UDI ZITIAT)

Hapoel Beersheba can already take a significant step towards qualification to the Europa League knockout rounds when it hosts Southampton of the English Premier League on Thursday, while Maccabi Tel Aviv’s hopes of progressing will be hanging by a thread should it fail to defeat Dundalk in Ireland.

Beersheba was a firm favorite to finish bottom of Group K after being drawn with Inter Milan, Southampton and Sparta Prague. However, a stunning 2-0 win against Inter at San Siro in its group opener has given Beersheba real hope of qualifying for the Round of 32.

Another upset against Southampton at Turner Stadium would leave the Israeli champion perfectly placed to advance in its first ever appearance in the group stage of a continental competition.

Beersheba has won all five of its competitive matches at Turner this season, including a 2-0 victory over Celtic in the Champions League playoffs, which still wasn’t enough to overturn a 5-2 loss from the first leg.

Beersheba will still be without injured captain Elyaniv Barda on Thursday, but coach Barak Bachar is expected to otherwise have a full squad at his disposal.

“It isn’t easy to have such a deep squad and I have plenty of headaches, but I’d rather have these types of headaches than miss players,” Bachar said. “We are only five matches into the league campaign, but we already feel like we are in the middle of the season because we started our campaign so early. We need to find the right players for each match and that also depends on our opponent.”

Southampton enters Thursday’s match on a four-game winning streak over all competitions, including a 3-0 victory over Sparta Prague in their Europa opener.

Meanwhile, Maccabi Tel Aviv visits Dundalk on Thursday after looking to be heading to an ideal start to its Group D campaign before suffering a meltdown against Zenit Saint Petersburg. Maccabi opened a 3-0 lead in the 70th minute in Netanya, only to lose 4-3, with Zenit scoring its goals between the 77th and 92nd minutes.

Despite the heartbreaking loss, Maccabi showed its character by bouncing back to win three straight matches in the Premier League by a combined goal difference of 11-0, capped by Sunday’s record-equaling 5-0 thrashing of Hapoel Tel Aviv in the derby.

Maccabi’s record signing Vidar Orn Kjartansson, who joined from Swedish side Malmo FF for an Israeli record fee of around 3.5 million euro, netted his first goal for the club in the defeat to Zenit. He hasn’t let up since, scoring three goals in the team’s past two league matches.

“We learned from the game against Zenit that if we relax even if we are leading 3-0 we can lose,” said Kjartansson. “But I think the last three games were a pretty good answer.”

Kjartansson has quickly settled at the club.

“I only had 2-3 training sessions before the first game and they didn’t really know me but now we’ve been training together and perhaps it should’ve taken even longer,” said the Iceland striker. “We are fitting really well together and we are playing more like a team. I know them and they know me better than before.”

Dundalk became the first Irish team to take a point from a UEFA group stage fixture when it drew 1-1 at AZ Alkmaar in their opener.

Dundalk has won the past two Irish championships, reaching the Europa groups after losing to Legia Warsaw in the Champions League playoffs.

Apart from two players from Romania and South Africa, Dundalk’s entire squad is Irish.

Following the defeat to Zenit, Maccabi will have to pick up points on the road in order to advance to the Round of 32 and its best opportunity to do so will likely come on Thursday.

“We want to make up for the match against Zenit,” said Maccabi defender Tal Ben-Haim. “For 78 minutes we played brilliantly, something most Israeli teams have never been able to do. What happened, happened in the last 12 minutes but we are over it and want to give a good performance on Thursday and take three points.”

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