Eliran Atar 311.
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Hapoel Tel Aviv suffered an embarrassing 1-0 defeat to FK Ekranas in the first
leg of the Europa League playoffs last week, while Maccabi Tel Aviv recorded an
outstanding 3-0 victory over Panathinaikos.
Both, however, are supremely
confident of progressing to the competition’s group stage ahead of Thursday
night’s return legs.
Despite a poor performance, Hapoel should have still
easily won in Lithuania, but its awful finishing and equally disappointing
defending allowed Mantas Samusiovas to head in the winner in the 82nd minute,
handing the Reds their second straight humbling defeat in continental
competition after falling to a 2-1 loss to Liechtenstein’s FC Vaduz in the
second leg of the third qualifying round.
However, Hapoel bounced back by
thrashing Maccabi Petah Tikva 4-1 in its Premier League opener on Monday,
scoring four goals at home for a second straight match after also crushing Vaduz
4-0 in continental competition.
“We played the way we want to and I’m
certainly pleased with what I saw,” Hapoel coach Dror Kashtan said after the
victory over Petah Tikva.
“I hope we can make even more progress on
Thursday. I wasn’t angry at the players this week and I was very calm after the
loss in Lithuania. I know what I’ve got here and I’ve got something
Kashtan was especially pleased with the performance of new signing
Nosa Igiebor, with the Nigerian midfielder showing plenty of promise in his
second match for the team after looking rusty in the first leg against
Striker Toto Tamuz has looked sharp ever since he joined Hapoel
last season and he will be aiming to build on his two-goal performance against
Petah Tikva when he comes up against the Lithuanians at Bloomfield
“We went through some tough days and there were some cheeky
people who wrongly criticized us,” Tamuz said.
“We looked good against
Petah Tikva and I hope we can get the job done on Thursday.”
a three-goal lead to sit back on when it visits Panathinaikos on Thursday, but
Moti Ivanir’s men have no intention of resting on their laurels.
think that we can already celebrate our progress to the group stage,” said
striker Barak Itzhaki, who scored his first goal of the season after coming on
as a substitute in Sunday’s 3-1 league win over Hapoel Petah
“Panathinaikos is a good team and even though we have a big lead
we aren’t going to Athens for a vacation. We know that if we concede an early
goal it could end up being a crazy match and we don’t want that. We will be as
ready and as focused as we were in the first leg.”
After an evenly
balanced first half, Maccabi dominated after the break at Bloomfield and claimed
a 3-0 win through goals from Moussa Konate (60) and Eliran Atar (67, 90),
improving its overall goal difference in Europe this season to 14-1 in five
While the yellow-and-blue is aiming to progress to the group
stage of a continental competition for just the second time in club history
after also reaching the Champions League groups in 2004/05, Hapoel will be
looking to do so for a third consecutive year and for a fifth time in the past
The Reds reached the UEFA Cup group stage twice in a row
(2006/07, 2007/08) before making the newlynamed Europa League groups in 2009/10
and advancing to the Champions League main draw for the first time in club
history last season.
“It was important for us to beat Petah Tikva and I
hope we can continue to improve from here,” midfielder Shay Abutbul
“We lost a lot of players in the offseason, but we still have an
excellent squad. Thursday’s match is critical to the club and we need to
repay the fans for all their support.”