Moussa Konate maccabi tel aviv_311.
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
While Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Tel Aviv have already all but guaranteed a place in the playoff round of the Europa League, Bnei Yehuda will have to overcome a stern test on Thursday night if it’s to become the third team from the coastal town to play in the final qualifying round of the competition.
Maccabi should have little trouble securing its place in the playoffs when it hosts FK Zeljeznicar at Bloomfield Stadium on Thursday after recording a 2-0 win on the road last week.
Hapoel should also cruise into the next round when its visits Liechtenstein’s FC Vaduz on Thursday thanks to its 4-0 first leg victory.
However, Bnei Yehuda’s tie remains finely balanced, with Yossi Abuksis’s men taking a 1-0 lead into the second leg of their third qualifying round tie at Helsingborgs IF of Sweden.
Bnei Yehuda was extremely impressive last week and would have built a more significant cushion for the return leg in Sweden had it been more composed in front of goal.
Bnei Yehuda’s win is all the more remarkable considering the fact that it came against the team leading the Swedish league, which is already well passed its midway point.
Helsingborgs claimed a 2-1 victory over IFK Goteborg on Sunday to remain one-point clear of Elfsborg at the top of the standings, and with just a minimal defeat to overturn from the first leg, the Swedes will be brimming with confidence on Thursday.
“The Swedes will play far more attack-minded soccer at home than they did at Bloomfield,” coach Abuksis said.
“We need to score a goal and avoid thinking about trying to protect our 1-0 lead. We will not enter the match looking just to defend because that will result in us leaving Sweden empty handed.We need to play our soccer.
“We have smart players with experience and they will need to stamp their authority on the match.”
Two goals by substitute Roberto Colautti at the start of the second half in Bosnia last week gave Maccabi a lead it should have little trouble defending on Thursday.
Colautti continued his excellent form with a goal in the 2-2 Toto Cup draw against Hapoel Tel Aviv on Sunday, and with Eliran Atar still suffering with his back and Barak Itzhaki still slowly recovering from last season’s serious knee surgery, the Argentinian-born Israel international should get another chance to prove his worth on Thursday after already having one foot out of the club’s door in the offseason.
The yellow-and-blue is set to be without Brazilian defender Nivaldo, with Haris Medunjanin to be sidelined for the next three weeks after spraining his ankle in training on Tuesday.
Maccabi was on the back foot for much of the first half of the first leg in Bosnia, but it dominated after the break and should have won by a greater margin.
Nevertheless, Zeljeznicar coach Amar Osim is refusing to rule out his team’s chances at Bloomfield.
“It’s true that Maccabi is a better team than us, but they’re not Real Madrid,” Osim said.
“Maccabi may be 20 times richer than us, but it isn’t 20 times better.
We had our chances against them, but failed to capitalize on them. The
only difference between the two teams is that Maccabi knows how to win
also when it is playing poorly.”
Hapoel should have the easiest time among the Tel Aviv teams on
Thursday, but experienced midfielder Salim Toama was cautious not to
take anything for granted.
“Maybe the media think this is a meaningless match, but we want to make
sure we finish the job,” said Toama, who will celebrate his 32nd
birthday next week.
“We want to win this match and make sure we don’t make any mistakes. We
have nothing to fear and we want to complete our progress and look
forward to Friday’s draw.”