Maccabi Tel Aviv Liran Strauber 311.
(photo credit: Asif Kliger)
The Europa League qualifying rounds are often treated by Israeli clubs as a nuisance rather than a privilege.
Every club aspires to succeed in continental competition, but it is difficult to escape the feeling that many Israeli players cherish their summer holiday a little more than they do the chance to embark on a long European run.
This blasé approach is not lost on the fans, who rarely venture out of
air-conditioned surroundings to watch their teams in the heat of the
You would have thought Bnei Yehuda’s faithful would have been at least a
little excited about the second leg of their team’s first qualifying
round tie against FC Ulysses last week. The Armenians are anything but
an attractive opponent, but considering Bnei Yehuda is making just its
third ever appearance in European competition it was disappointing to
see that there were no more than several hundred fans, including family
and friends, at Bloomfield Stadium to witness the team’s progress to the
second qualifying round.
Thursday night, however, will be a different story altogether when
Bloomfield will be bursting with thousands of expectant Maccabi Tel Aviv
Rarely has a qualifying round match in European soccer’s second cup
competition been so highly anticipated.
The Premier League season is still more than a month away, but Maccabi
supporters are counting the minutes to the start of Thursday’s clash.
Maccabi hosts FK Mogren of Montenegro in the first leg of the second
qualifying round in an encounter that will give a first indication of
the future prospects of the expensively-assembled squad of stars built
at Kiryat Shalom over the summer.
Tel Aviv has signed no less than 10 new players in the past couple of
months, many of whom are expected to make their official debuts on
Club owner Mitch Goldhar abandoned the frugal approach which
characterized his first season at Maccabi and is holding nothing back in
his attempt to help the team back to its glory days.
Maccabi remains Israel’s most decorated club, but the yellow-and-blue
have won just one league title in the past 15 years, something Goldhar
is desperate to change, with a budget of around NIS 100 million.
Some 7,000 yellow-and-blue fans have already bought season tickets and
will first and foremost be hoping there is no repeat of the 2005/06
That was the year Maccabi shocked Israeli soccer by signing three of the
biggest names of the time, bringing in Avi Nimni, Eyal Berkovic and
Croatian Giovanni Rosso. The side was nicknamed the Galacticos after the
star-studded Real Madrid teams, but following a poor start to the
season coach Nir Klinger was sent packing and the squad disintegrated
just as fast as it was assembled.
There is, however, far more reason for optimism ahead of the coming
It will surely take time for the team to gel, but unlike five years ago,
Maccabi has gone for a mixture of talent, experience and youth, as well
as adding veteran Yossi Mizrahi to the coaching staff to help manager
Avi Nimni with the running of team affairs.
Tel Aviv will have a completely new backfour this season, with Israel
international Avi Strul and Brazilian Nivaldo to team-up in the center
of defense and blue-and-white regulars Klemi Saban and Yoav Ziv to play
on the right and left, respectively.
Bosnian Haris Medunjanin, Cameroonian Albert Baning and Malian Sidibe
Djibril are all eventually expected to play in the side’s midfield,
although the latter will likely not start on Thursday, with Shiran Yeini
to play in his place.
Strikers Roberto Colautti and Barak Itzhaki will likely link-up in
attack, with fellow new signing Eliran Atar to wait for his chance on
In fact, only two players from last season’s squad are expected to be
first-team regulars, with Liran Strauber maintaining his position as the
side’s first goalkeeper and midfielder Maor Buzaglo to be given another
chance to realize his potential at a big club.
The start of every season is a time of hope for fans, especially after
your team has gone through a complete overhaul.
The one thing Maccabi needs now is patience from the supporters and
media, but unfortunately for Goldhar, that is one thing money can’t buy.
It will not be fair to judge this new Tel Aviv team until the end of the
season, but only immediate results will prevent a backlash. Succeed or
fail, Maccabi will be one of the stories of the season and it all starts
at Bloomfield on Thursday firstname.lastname@example.org