MACCABI TEL AVIV’S Moussa Konate311.
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Of the three Israeli teams still playing in Europe, Maccabi Tel Aviv has been by
far the most impressive.
Maccabi Haifa stuttered on its way to the
Champions League playoffs while Hapoel Tel Aviv lost to Liechtenstein’s FC Vaduz
before reaching the same stage of the Europa League, where it will face FK
Ekranas on Thursday.
The yellow-and-blue, on the other hand, impressed
against Xazar Lankaran before thrashing FK Zeljeznicar of Bosnia 8-0 on
aggregate in the third qualifying round.
However, all the superlatives
showered on Moti Ivanir’s team will come under scrutiny on Thursday night when
Maccabi hosts Greek giant Panathinaikos in the first leg of the Europa League
playoffs, with the aggregate winner to advance to the competition’s group
With all due respect to Lankaran and Zeljeznicar, Maccabi has yet
to face a quality opponent this campaign.
Panathinaikos, which finished
as runner-up to Olympiacos last season, dropped to the Europa League playoffs
after being stunned by Denmark’s Odense BK in the Champions League third
qualifying round and has been hit by the economic crisis in Greece, with stars
Djibril Cisse, Sidney Govou and Gilberto Silva all leaving this
However, Pana has played in the group stage of the Champions
League or Europa League in each of the past eight seasons, and despite its
recent struggles, is a clear favorite to knockout Maccabi.
“We said at
the start of the season that we want to embark on a new road, building a team
that will include young players from the youth department,” Ivanir said. “We
feel that we are heading in the right direction and if we can overcome
Panathinaikos this will be a massive achievement for us.”
Ivanir will be
without influential midfielder Guillermo Israilevich for both legs against the
Greeks, but the coach is optimistic that his young players can fill his
“What we have achieved so far gives us a lot of confidence,” he
said. “It is not just that we have won our matches, but it is the way we have
done so. The owner is pleased with the direction we are heading in and we are
seeing a different attitude from the players.
Some of the youngsters will
play against Pana.
“It makes no difference that this is a big game. They
have proven themselves and there’s no reason to stop believing in
Pana’s Argentinian midfielder Sebastian Leto is expecting a tough
match at Bloomfield Stadium.
“Maccabi is a difficult opponent,” he said.
“We were knocked out of the Champions League after making mistakes in the return
leg at home, but we hope to play much better against Maccabi.”
yellow-and-blue, Hapoel will feel that it must overcome Lithuanian champion
Ekranas and qualify for the group stage of a continental competition for a third
Hapoel played in the group stage of the Europa League in
2009/10 before reaching the Champions League groups last year.
humbling defeat to Vaduz in the second leg of the third qualifying round, the
Reds will be looking to get back on track in Panevezys on Thursday.
are not worried that there will be a repeat of the performance against Vaduz,”
striker Toto Tamuz said. “We learned a lot from that match and we are determined
to record a good result on the road.”
Since the defeat to Vaduz, Hapoel
has added midfielder Nosa Igiebor to its squad and the Nigerian could make his
first start for the team on Thursday.
“After what happened in Vaduz we
will be ready,” midfielder Shay Abutbul said. “The fact that everyone thinks
that this is an easy match makes it more stressful. We have watched them and
they are a good team.
“The most important thing is that we don’t lose on
the road and decide the tie at home next Thursday. I can promise that what
occurred in Vaduz will never happen again.”
MACCABI TEL AVIV’S Moussa
Konate (left) and Hapoel Tel Aviv’s Toto Tamuz will be looking to continue their
impressive starts to the season when their teams face Panathinaikos of Greece
and FK Ekranas of Lithuania, respectively, in the first leg of the Europa League
playoffs on Thursday night. (Adi Avishai) Both TA clubs face final hurdle to get
to Europa group stage On TV:
FK Ekranas vs Hapoel Tel Aviv
(live on Sport5 at 7 p.m.); Maccabi Tel Aviv vs Panathinaikos (live on Sport 1
at 8:10 p.m.)