Three Israeli teams in UEFA Cup action

Betar faces Dinamo Bucharest, Hap TA hosts Domzale, Bnei Yehuda welcomes Lokomotiv Sofia.

By SHARON SOLOMON
August 10, 2006 16:44
3 minute read.

 
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Three of Israel's Premier League clubs will be in action in Thursday's UEFA Cup second qualifying round first legs, with Betar Jerusalem facing the toughest test - away to Romanian cup holders Dinamo Bucharest. Bnei Yehuda and Hapoel Tel Aviv will also be hoping to come away with good results, despite UEFA's hostile ruling that forced Israeli clubs to play their home games outside of the country. Betar will play its first leg in the Romanian capital, while Hapoel will 'host' Slovenian side Domzale in Tiburg, Holland and Bnei Yehuda will welcome Lokomotiv Sofia of Bulgaria in Bratislava, Slovakia, at the field of local club Senec. Despite the difficult task, Arkadi Gaydamak's Betar will hope to secure the advantage ahead of the second leg in two weeks time. Around 300 yellow-andblack supporters are expected to make their presence felt in Bucharest. Manager Ossie Ardiles, an Argentinean soccer legend, has yet to disclose his starting lineup, with questions over the fitness of striker Barak Itzhaki continuing. The dynamic marksman, who was linked with a move to Belgian side Genk throughout the summer, has just recovered from a nagging knee injury and his participation is likely to be decided close to kick off. Brazilian striker Pinto is expected to make his debut for Betar, after missing the Toto Cup game against Hapoel Tel Aviv on Saturday. "We had a good training session, but we're still lacking match fitness," Betar left winger Michael Zandberg told reporters ahead of the game. "The odds are against us, but we won't use this as an excuse. We'll do our best in both the games and hopefully the result will be positive." Claudiu Niculescu, who scored 25 league goals for Dinamo last season, will be in the starting eleven after deciding to stay on despite rumors linking him to other European clubs. Bucharest's main threat in midfield will be Angolan Ze Kalanga, who played in last summers World Cup finals in Germany. The 22-year old new acquisition is considered royal property due to his electrifying pace and ability to score from long range. Jerusalem's Gal Alberman and Derek Boateng are expected to handle the task of marking the dangerous playmaker. "I am very happy to be involved in the UEFA Cup and more importantly hope to achieve a good result," Ardiles said. Addressing the lack of match fitness, he added: "We looked very tired in the second half of our last game against Hapoel [Tel Aviv], but this is normal at this part of the season." Betar president Vladimir Shaklar has announced that the second leg, which is scheduled for August 24, will probably be held in Hungary. In Holland, Hapoel Tel Aviv will be looking to reproduce the amazing run of success from 2002, when it knocked out Premiership giant Chelsea and eventually lost to Italians AC Milan after a heroic win in the first leg. Things have changed since that memorable and unprecedented run. Dror Kashtan now coaches the national team, former captain Shimon Gershon has signed with arch rival Betar Jerusalem and all the foreign players have been changed. But veteran Yossi Abuksis, left back Yigal Antebi and playmaker Salim Tuama will be eager to try and initiate another quest for European success. "We have a mission to accomplish and hopefully we will make a positive start to the campaign," Tuama commented on his teams chances. "We should advance, but you never know. We'll give it our best shot." Domzale will field its experienced forward Sebastian Cimirotic, who spent three years with Hapoel Tel Aviv in the late 1990s. Cimirotic scored 19 goals in 69 appearances for the Reds and was an integral part of the domestic double triumph in the year 2000. Around 100 Hapoel fans have traveled with the team to Tilburg and are expected to create a friendly atmosphere with the locals. Bnei Yehuda will be playing in European competition for the first time in its history when it faces Lokomotiv. "Bnei Yehuda is making history. We are playing for the first time in Europe and I hope not the last time." the club's coach Nitzan Shirazi told the press. "It's a pity we are hosting away from Israel and this takes the focus away from soccer. "But it's a dream come true and we'll try to put up a respectable performance." Striker Lior Asulin was in confident spirits ahead of the tie. "The aim is to advance to the next round," he said. "I have worked very hard in the off season and I'll be ready for the game. Its fun to be playing in Europe and I'm quite excited." Asulin, who played for Betar Jerusalem last season, scored 12 goals for the yellow-and-black and confirmed his status as one of Israel's promising prodigies. The quick and energetic forward is expected to fill in for Moshe Biton, who completed his move to Maccabi Tel Aviv earlier this summer.

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