Triple-barrel Israeli group-stage action

Mac TA hosts Dynamo Kiev, Hapoel visits Warsaw, Greens in for a challenge vs Schalke.

Toto Tamuz 311 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Toto Tamuz 311
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi and Hapoel Tel Aviv will be desperate to register their first wins of the Europa League group stage on Thursday night, while Maccabi Haifa will be more than happy to settle for a draw in its match at Schalke 04.
Maccabi Tel Aviv hosts Dynamo Kiev at Bloomfield Stadium, hoping to rebound from the 5-1 thrashing at the hands of Besiktas JK in Istanbul two weeks ago.
With Group E also including English Premier League side Stoke City, the yellow-and-blue knows that any hope it might have of finishing among the top two and advancing to the round of 32 will largely depend on it taking all three points in its home matches.
“We are playing Kiev at home so we must go for the win,” said striker Barak Itzhaki, who scored Maccabi’s first goal in its 4-1 victory at Hapoel Beersheba on Sunday, which took it to the top of the Premier League standings.
“We are facing a very good team that drew with Stoke and clearly this will be a tough match. But we will be ready and I hope we can get the job done.”
Kiev has lost out to Shakhtar Donetsk in the Ukrainian league in recent years, but last season’s Europa League quarterfinalist still boasts an extremely strong squad, including legendary striker Andriy Shevchenko.
“We must take this match seriously,” said the former AC Milan and Chelsea player, who will be celebrating his 35th birthday in Tel Aviv on Thursday.
“We are in good form, but we will need to learn all about Maccabi to make sure we are ready for the match.”
While Maccabi’s defeat at Besiktas was to be expected, Hapoel’s 1-0 home loss to Rapid Bucharest in its Group C opener was bitterly disappointing.
Despite not having fully gelled yet, Dror Kashtan’s largely new squad has managed to eke out results in local league play.
However, it was punished for its lack of conviction in front of goal against Bucharest and needs a win at Legia Warsaw on Thursday to get back in contention for a top-two finish in Group C, which also includes Dutch powerhouse PSV Eindhoven.
“It is important we return to Israel with three points,” Hapoel’s Croatian midfielder Mirko Oremus said. “We were the better team against Rapid, but we couldn’t convert our chances.
We need to compensate for that defeat with a win on the road and I think we can do that in Poland.”
Haifa was the only Israeli team to win its group opener, edging AEK Larnaca 1-0 at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium.
The Greens also bounced back from their recent woes in the league with a 5- 0 victory over Hapoel Ramat Hasharon on Saturday, but coach Elisha Levy has no illusions regarding the size of the task his team faces at last season’s Champions League semifinalist.
“Everyone knows Schalke is one of the best teams in Germany, but we are hoping to put on a good performance and record a good result. I will be satisfied with a draw,” Levy said.
Haifa will be without injured captain Yaniv Katan, while Eyal Golasa and Idan Vered are expected to return to the starting lineup against Schalke, which will be guided by new coach Huub Stevens for the first time after Ralf Rangnick stepped down last week citing burnout.
“Haifa is currently undergoing a process, with our young players still learning what it means to play for this club,” Levy said. “We have experienced an erratic start to the season, but we will be fine once we settle down.”
Thursday on TV: Schalke 04 vs Maccabi Haifa (live on Channel 9 at 8 p.m.); Maccabi Tel Aviv vs Dynamo Kiev (live on Channel 9 at 10:05 p.m.); Legia Warsaw vs Hapoel Tel Aviv (live on Sport 1 at 10:05 p.m.)