(photo credit: Maccabi Haifa website)
Hapoel Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa enter Thursday’s Europa League third
qualifying round return legs confident of securing their progress to the
playoffs with home victories.
Maccabi Tel Aviv’s name is already
guaranteed to be called out in Friday’s playoff draw in Nyon, Switzerland, after
it dropped to a 4-3 aggregate defeat to FC Basel in the Champions League third
qualifying round following a 3-3 draw in the second leg.
Hapoel Tel Aviv
and Haifa are firm favorites to join the yellow-and-blue and give Israel at
least three representatives in the playoff round, while Hapoel Ramat Gan will be
hoping to add another fairy-tale story to the club’s bursting collection by also
Tel Aviv is the only one of the three Israeli teams in action
on Thursday which has an away goal to fall back on.
The Reds drew 1-1
with Pandurii Târgu Jiu in the first leg in Romania last week, but coach Ran
Ben-Shimon remains as wary as ever ahead of Thursday’s clash at Bloomfield
“I’ve got a good feeling ahead of this match,” said Ben-Shimon.
“I’ve seen nice progress from my team both in training and in matches.”
Midfielder Gili Vermut could start for Hapoel for the first time since last
December after coming on as a substitute in the team’s last two
The star of the club’s 2009/10 championship- winning side
returned to Hapoel last year, but missed the final six months of the season
through a thigh injury.
“Pandurii was the runner-up in the Romanian
league last season, which is just as good as the Israeli league,” warned Vermut.
“I’m feeling great and I’m ready to start, but that is a decision which needs to
be made by the coach.”
Ben-Shimon admitted on Wednesday that he has yet
to make up his mind.
“As long as Gili is healthy he will start,” said
Ben-Shimon. “It’s a complicated decision.”
After registering the biggest
win ever for an Israeli team in European competition two weeks ago, crushing
Xazar Lankaran 8-0 in Azerbaijan, Haifa could only manage a 0-0 draw at FK
Ventspils of Latvia last week.
Nevertheless, coach Arik Benado has got
little doubt his team will complete the mission at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium on
“We showed we are a superior team in the first leg and we are
the favorites,” said Benado. “If we do our job we will be fine. We are a better
team than Ventspils and we need to beat them. We will try to be dominant and
play attacking soccer, while also being vigilant.”
While Haifa and Tel
Aviv would be extremely disappointed should they fail to reach the group stage,
not to mention the playoff round, Ramat Gan enters Thursday’s showdown in a
relaxed mood, especially after recording a surprise 0-0 draw at GD Estoril-Praia
of Portugal last week.
Despite being relegated to the National League
last season, Ramat Gan booked its place in continental competition by winning
the State Cup in stunning fashion and new coach Arik Gilrovich believes a place
in the playoffs is within his side’s capabilities.
“We have already done
our part regardless of how the tie ends,” Gilrovich said. “They are a better
team, but with a little bit of faith and some luck we can overcome them.”