Maccabi Tel Aviv coach Shota Arveladze .
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Hapoel Beersheba and Maccabi Tel Aviv begin the second half of their Europa League group stage campaigns on Thursday night knowing they have little room for error.
Both Israeli clubs remain in contention for a place in the top two and progress to the round of 32, but can scarcely afford any more slip-ups.
Eyal Golasa’s 82nd-minute winner gave Maccabi a 2-1 victory at AZ Alkmaar in the Netherlands two weeks ago, reviving the team’s hopes of qualification.
Maccabi, which hosts AZ in Netanya on Thursday, had lost its first two matches in Group D, but moved within just one point of Irish side Dundalk in second place with its first win. Zenit St.
Petersburg has essentially already wrapped up first place by winning its first three matches, and Maccabi is confident of its chances of snatching second place, with Dundalk also still having to come to Israel.
Maccabi visits Zenit in Russia in three weeks and completes its group games when it welcomes Dundalk on December 8. Home wins against AZ and Dundalk should be enough for Maccabi to progress.
Maccabi enters Thursday’s contest on the back of two consecutive Premier League defeats, something which last happened at the end of the 2014/15 campaign.
The 2-0 losses to Maccabi Haifa and Beersheba have seen Tel Aviv fall to third place in the standings. The yellow- and-blue still has plenty of time to make amends in local action, but another defeat on Thursday could ultimately cost it a place in the knockout rounds.
“If I say that I feel good I would be lying, but this is football,” said Maccabi coach Shota Arveladze following Sunday’s defeat at Beersheba. “We have a very important game coming up for the country, for Maccabi and for the supporters as we want to have a chance to make it to the next stage of the Europa League.”
Winger Tal Ben-Haim is expected to return to Maccabi’s starting lineup after being dropped on Sunday, a decision which widened his rift with Arveladze.
Despite its encouraging Europa League start, which included a 2-0 win at Inter Milan and a goalless deadlock against English Premier League club Southampton, Beersheba finds itself in a tricky position after the frustrating 1-0 home defeat to Sparta Prague two weeks ago.
Beersheba visits Prague on Thursday and every point could be decisive in the wide-open group. Sparta leads the way with six points, with Beersheba and Southampton on four points and Inter in last place with three points.
Beersheba still has to host Inter in three weeks before capping its group matches with a visit to Southampton.
“The win against Maccabi showed our strength and gave us a lot of confidence,” said Beersheba’s in-form midfielder Maor Buzaglo, who scored his team’s second goal on Sunday. “But we don’t have time to celebrate as we face a very important match in Europe.”
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