UEFA Europa League Logo 311.
(photo credit: Mark Keppler/AP)
Hapoel Tel Aviv effectively secured its progress to the Europa League third
qualifying round with a 4-1 win over PFC Beroe in Bulgaria on Thursday. Maccabi
Haifa took a significant step to joining it 30 minutes later with a 2-0 home
victory over Xazar Lankaran of Azerbaijan.
Hapoel needed just nine
minutes to all but clinch the tie. New Brazilian midfielder Lucas Sasha chipped
the goalkeeper from just inside the halfway line in the fifth minute and Omer
Damari doubled the advantage a mere four minutes later.
Hirstov gave Beroe a lifeline in the 25th minute, but Damari (54) and Itay
Shechter (60) ensured next Thursday’s second leg will essentially be a
Haifa will take a two-goal cushion to Azerbaijan next week,
with a sensational Hen Ezra (37) strike and an Alon Turgeman (55) effort giving
the Greens a deserved win at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium.
The draw for the
third qualifying round, that will also include Hapoel Ramat Gan, which won the
State Cup last season after being relegated to the National League, will already
take place on Friday.
The Champions League third qualifying round draw
will also be held in Nyon, Switzerland on Friday, with Maccabi Tel Aviv waiting
to discover who it will likely face next.
Like Haifa and Hapoel, Maccabi
will also play the return leg of its second qualifying round tie next week.
However, Wednesday’s 2-0 road win over Hungarian champion Gyori ETO has given
Maccabi a very comfortable cushion ahead of the second leg at Bloomfield Stadium
on Tuesday. Nevertheless, new coach Paulo Sousa isn’t counting his chickens just
“We faced a difficult opponent but we played well in the second half
and dominated the match,” Sousa said.
“This is not the end of the story,
we have another match at home and we must continue to develop the team. In my
opinion we have a considerable advantage going into the return leg, but you must
always respect your opponents and work hard to manage the next game as well as
Maccabi will not be seeded in Friday’s draw, meaning it could
face the likes of FC Basel, which reached the Champions League last 16 in
2011/12, and Scottish giant Celtic, which beat Northern Ireland’s Cliftonville
3-0 in the first leg this week.
To reach the group stage, Maccabi will
need to not only overcome Gyori, but also triumph in two more home-and-away ties
in the third qualifying round and the playoff stage.