Soccer seems to be the last thing on everybody’s mind ahead of Maccabi Tel
Aviv’s Europa League Group E opener against Besiktas JK in Istanbul on Thursday
The escalating crisis between the Israeli and Turkish governments
has raised fears that local authorities will not be able to protect Maccabi
players and fans at the I˙nönü Stadium, resulting in almost unprecedented
security measures for Thursday’s match.
Maccabi will be escorted by
police throughout its 48-hour stay in Turkey, with over 2,500 policemen
welcoming the team at the airport on Wednesday.
Nevertheless, Tel Aviv’s
management decided to leave nothing to chance and also hired a private security
company, as well as requesting UEFA to send a representative to oversee safety
Players have been told that they will only be allowed to leave
the team hotel for training sessions and the match itself, while fans, who
decided to follow the team despite the National Security Council’s warnings,
were requested to take off shirts identifying them as supporters of the yellow-
“We are not interested in politics,” Maccabi coach Moti Ivanir
told Turkish media upon the team’s arrival in Istanbul.
“We are here to
play soccer. We have been here before and we are expecting everything to be the
same. We are not scared of anyone and we are not concerned anything will happen
Maccabi players were not allowed to speak to media ahead of the
match, but one player said: “It is very strange to be traveling to a match
abroad with no one talking about soccer. Clearly we would have preferred that
the situation would be more calm, but it shouldn’t effect our play on the
Besiktas urged its fans not to stir up trouble, releasing a
statement on Wednesday asking its supporters to show “hospitality” to Maccabi,
warning that the club could face punishment from UEFA for any unruly
“As for the tension between Turkey and Israel, we are
professionals and we want to do nothing but play football.
We are not
interested in politics,” Besiktas coach Carlos Carvalhal was quoted as saying on
the club’s website.
Despite all the distractions, Maccabi is determined
to focus on the task on hand, knowing every point will be crucial in a group
which also includes Dynamo Kiev and Stoke City.
Maccabi has got its
season off to an outstanding start, comfortably winning all three of its Premier
League matches while reaching the group stage of a European competition for just
the second time in its history by overcoming Greek giant
Midfielder Moshe Lugasi will miss Thursday’s match through
injury, with star-striker Eliran Atar also seriously doubtful.
which overcame Alania Vladikavkaz 3-2 on aggregate to advance to the group
stage, will be entering the match on the back of a defeat after falling 2-1 to
Eskisehirspor in its first league encounter of the season on
Spanish star Guti did not play any part in that defeat, but the
Turks squad also includes the likes of Hugo Almeida, Ricardo Quaresma and Simao,
so it should come as little surprise that Ivanir has declared that he will be
more than happy with a draw in Istanbul.
Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Tel
Aviv also play their Europa League group openers on Thursday, but unlike the
yellow-and-blue, they will not settle for anything but a win.
AEK Larnaca in Group J while Hapoel welcomes Rapid Bucharest to Bloomfield
It has been more than three weeks since Haifa missed out on a
place in the Champions League group stage after losing to KRC Genk on penalties,
but the Greens have yet to recover, as clearly seen in Saturday’s 1-0 Premier
League defeat at Ashdod SC.
Owner Jacob Shahar spoke to the players ahead
of Tuesday’s training session, telling them: “Despite the fact that we are going
through a rough patch and failed to win in Ashdod I have come to cheer you up
and give you support. I want to enjoy Thursday’s match and I’m counting on
Midfielder Dela Yampolsky admitted that the high level of
expectation is beginning to weigh on the squad.
“There is a little bit of
pressure,” he said. “But it is positive pressure to succeed as we are a new team
and we need to play more matches to gel.”
Larnaca, coached by former
Betar Jerusalem and Maccabi Tel Aviv boss Ton Caanen, reached the group stage of
a European competition for the first time in its history after overcoming
Norway’s Rosenborg, but it has only managed draws in its first two local league
“I know all about Maccabi Haifa,” Caanen said. “It is going to
be very difficult to play against Haifa, but I’ve got a good feeling we can
leave Israel with the points.”
In Group J’s other match, Roni Levy’s
Steaua Bucharest hosts Schalke 04 of Germany.
Hapoel begins its fifth
appearance in the past six years in a group stage of continental competition
with a match that could go a long way to deciding if Dror Kashtan’s team ends
the group in the top two and makes it through to the round of 32.
Aviv’s group, which also includes Dutch giant PSV Eindhoven and Legia Warsaw, is
the easiest of the three groups including Israeli teams, but as expected,
Kashtan has no intention of taking any side lightly.
“We have the
tendency to underrate European clubs, but Rapid is a strong side,” Kashtan said.
“We are facing a disciplined team which knows what it is doing, but Hapoel Tel
Aviv enters every match with the aim of winning.”