Ironi Kiryat Shmona beats MSK Zilina 370 .
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Ironi Kiryat Shmona continues its quest for a place in the Champions League
group stage on Wednesday when it hosts Azerbaijan’s Neftci PFK in the first leg
of the third qualifying round at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium in Haifa.
surprise Israeli champion claimed a 2-0 win over MSK Zilina of Slovenia at
Kiryat Eliezer last week to register a 2- 1 aggregate victory and will be
looking to take a massive step towards an extended European campaign on
Kiryat Shmona is already guaranteed a place in the Europa
League playoffs even if it falls to Neftci Baku. However, progress to the
playoff round of the Champions League will not only see the Israelis close to
within one tie of the group stage of continental soccer’s most prestigious
competition, but will also book its place in the Europa League group stage, a
momentous achievement for the small club from the north of Israel.
are entering this match mentally balanced and humble as always,” said Kiryat
Shmona coach Gili Landau in his typical manner.
“We respect our opponent,
but do not fear it. I expect us to be motivated and determined. When you
win one match you have to find the way to build on it and that is our
Neftci had little trouble progressing to the third qualifying
round last week, drawing 2-2 at Georgia’s FC Zestafoni to complete a 5-2
The Azerbaijan champion’s budget is about four times the
size of Kiryat Shmona’s, but the northerners proved in winning the Premier
League last season that money isn’t everything.
“We closed the gap from
the rich clubs in Israel and we hope to do so in Europe as well,” Landau said.
“Clearly, Baku is a team built to progress to the Champions League group stage,
but we have prepared well and I told the players that this is an amazing
opportunity for them.”
Kiryat Shmona completed the signing of Hungarian
striker Laszlo Lencse on Tuesday, but the 24-year-old isn’t expected to start on
Wednesday, meaning Shimon Abu Hazeira is set to shoulder the burden up front
“A win by any score-line will be good for us,” Abu Hazeira
said. “We must make the most of our chances because that is something we
struggled with in the previous round.”