Maccabi Tel Aviv midfielder Eran Zahavi 370.
(photo credit: Adi Avishai and Uzi Gal)
Maccabi Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa have high hopes of reaching the knockout
rounds of the Europa League and they have got an ideal opportunity to get the
group stage off to a winning start on Thursday with both playing their openers
Tel Aviv, which was gifted a berth to the group stage,
benefiting from the consequences of a match-fixing scandal in Ukraine from April
2008, hosts APOEL Nicosia of Cyprus at Bloomfield Stadium while Haifa welcomes
Dutch club AZ Alkmaar at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium.
Since dropping to the
Europa League after being knocked out in the Champions League third qualifying
round by Basel, Tel Aviv has won both its Premier League matches to go top of
the standings with Hapoel Beersheba.
Nicosia, on the other hand, has so
far won just one of six matches in all competitions this season. The Cypriots, who found themselves in the Europa League after being drawn to replace the banned Fenerbahçe SK,
beat Paralimni in their local league opener but dropped to a surprise defeat at
AEL Limassol on Saturday.
Haifa, which outscored its Europa opponents
16-1 to advance to the group stage, will also be entering its group opener on
the back of an unexpected defeat after losing 3-2 to Ashdod SC two weeks
Nevertheless, Haifa’s overall start to the season has been very
impressive, and coach Arik Benado believes his team can compete with an AZ side
which is currently in fifth position after six matches in the Dutch league,
defeating Go Ahead Eagles 3-0 on Sunday for its third league win.
qualified for the Europa League after winning the Dutch cup last season, but
only made it through to the group stage on away goals after losing 2-0 at home
to Atromitos of Greece (3-3 on aggregate).
“Alkmaar has a very lethal
attack and is a very good team,” Benado told his players.
“But we are
also a good team and we can beat them. It is going to be a good battle.”