Kiryat Shmona on quest to extend European campaign

Kiryat Shmona is already guaranteed a place in the Europa League playoffs even if it falls to Neftci Baku.

August 1, 2012 04:12
1 minute read.
Ironi Kiryat Shmona beats MSK Zilina

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.

The 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 Wednesday.

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.

“We 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 target.”

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 aggregate win.

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 once more.

“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.”

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