Maccabi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Beersheba both face continental moment of truth

Maccabi will be eliminated with a draw even should AZ lose.

December 7, 2016 23:29
3 minute read.
Maccabi Tel Aviv

Maccabi Tel Aviv forward Tal Ben-Haim. (photo credit: REUTERS)

One club is enjoying the best period in club history, while the other club is in the midst of its worst crisis in years.

But both Hapoel Beersheba and Maccabi Tel Aviv will enter their decisive Europa League matches on Thursday night believing they can advance to the round-of-32.

Despite beating Inter Milan twice and picking up seven points from five matches, Beersheba faces the tougher task on paper when it visits Southampton of the English Premier League.

Beersheba needs a win or a draw with goals to finish in second place behind Sparta Prague, which has already won Group K. Beersheba and Southampton drew 0-0 at Turner Stadium earlier in the campaign, so should they register another goalless deadlock their head-tohead record will be tied and Southampton will advance by virtue of its superior overall goal difference.

Maccabi doesn’t have its fate in its own hands like Beersheba, but nevertheless enters its final group match in Netanya against Irish side Dundalk with everything to play for. Should AZ Alkmaar defeat Zenit St. Petersburg in the Netherlands in the group’s other match it will finish in second place behind the Russians regardless of the result in Netanya.

However, Zenit has proven that it is head and shoulders above the rest of the teams in Group D, winning all five of its matches to date, and as long as the Russians don’t suffer their first defeat in the competition on Thursday, a win for Maccabi will send it through to the next round.

Maccabi will be eliminated with a draw even should AZ lose.

That would leave Tel Aviv, AZ and Dundalk on five points each, but AZ will be the one to finish ahead on the tiebreaker and advance should the match in Netanya end in a goalless deadlock. Dundalk will claim the tiebreaker with a score draw.

Beersheba enters Thursday’s match in a confident mood, taking its lead at the top of the Premier League standings to 10 points with an eighth consecutive league win on Saturday, a 5-0 triumph over Ashdod SC.

The reigning Israeli champion improved its overall goal difference over the league winning streak to 29-2, scoring five goals in three of its last four victories.

A 93rd-minute winner by Ben Sahar completed an unforgettable comeback against Inter two weeks ago, securing a 3-2 win over the Italian giant at Turner Stadium.

Beersheba trailed by two goals at the break, but fought back for a famous win that gives it confidence that it can also get the result it needs in Southampton.

“We believe anything is possible,” said Beersheba coach Barak Bachar. “But obviously this is a very difficult match. It is clear that they will start off by putting us under a lot of pressure. We need to score and we have enough weapons to find the back of the net in any stadium in Europe.”

Maccabi Tel Aviv coach Shota Arveladze arrives at Thursday’s match with his job on the line.

The yellow-and-blue has lost touch with Beersheba in the title race after winning just one of its past six matches, failing to score in five of them, including Saturday’s 0-0 draw with rock-bottom Hapoel Ashkelon.

It has also gone scoreless in three of its past four Europa games and will have to break out of the slump against Dundalk to have any chance of advancing.

“These aren’t the results we wanted but there’s no choice right now and we have a very important match coming up in the Europa League,” said Maccabi defender Tal Ben-Haim. “Unfortunately we haven’t been able to score and I don’t remember seeing a team go through these types of situations for such a long period of time.

“I hope that on Thursday we will break out of this,” added Ben- Haim.

“It’s hard to put a finger on the exact problem, but I can say that our coach is doing the maximum every day at practice and we are all behind him. We haven’t been able to do our utmost as players, each one of us. We have to double our efforts and keep our heads up.”

“Truthfully, we haven’t been good and we are working hard to improve. We have good enough players and a good enough coach to get out of this situation together and I hope we will see this on Thursday.”

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