maccabi tel aviv 370.
(photo credit: Maccabi Tel Aviv website)
Without two of the anchors from last season’s championship-winning team, Maccabi
Tel Aviv will be looking to prove it still has what it takes to reach the
Champions League group stage when it begins its qualifying campaign against
Gyori ETO of Hungary on Wednesday.
Maccabi visits the Hungarian champion
in the first leg of the second qualifying round, hoping to get its quest off on
the right foot ahead of next Tuesday’s return leg at Bloomfield
To reach the group stage, Maccabi will need to not only overcome
Gyori, but also triumph in two more home-andaway ties in the third qualifying
round and the playoff stage.
Maccabi will have to manage without two of
last season’s stars as it goes in search of a first Champions League group stage
berth since 2004/05, with goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama and topscorer Eliran Atar
leaving this summer.
The Nigerian stopper was the foundation to Tel
Aviv’s composed defensive play last season, but he returned to French side Lille
after spending one year on loan at Maccabi, despite the yellowand- blue’s desire
to retain his services.
Atar scored a league-best 22 goals last season,
and despite being under contract, Maccabi never had any intention of standing in
his way when French club Stade de Reims offered $1.8 million.
brought in eight new players, but it remains to be seen if any of them are
capable of filling Enyeama’s and Atar’s shoes.
The 34-year-old Juan Pablo
Colinas is set to take Enyeama’s place as the team’s number one ’keeper after
joining from Sporting Gijon last week, but he is not expected to start on
Wednesday, with 20-year-old Barak Levy likely to be given the place between the
New Spanish defender Mane is also expected to be on the bench on
Wednesday, with Sousa set to stick to last season’s reliable back-four of Shiran
Yeini, Yoav Ziv, Eitan Tibi and Carlos Garcia.
Gal Alberman, Maharan Radi
and Eran Zahavi are all likely to hold onto their places in the midfield from
last season, but Sousa is leaning towards the inclusion of new signing Omri
Altman on the flank, with the returning Barak Itzhaki anticipated to take the
place of good friend Atar alongside Rade Prica.
“Eliran scored a lot of
goals and we always knew he would score goals so it’s going to be a challenge
for us,” said Prica, who only joined the team in last season’s January transfer
window but nevertheless played a crucial role in the yellow-and-blue’s run to
“I think we have the players to do the same job we did last
year. Every player needs to take more responsibility. I, of course, have to take
the responsibility to score more goals, but it’s important that every player
takes on more responsibility and then we will do fine.”
Maccabi has been
far from impressive in its pre-season matches, but Prica remains optimistic
“It’s always difficult when you come back from holiday and
start training, but in the last two games I’ve seen a lot of improvement and I
think we will do well,” the Swede said.
“We know Gyori is a good team.
It’s probably the worst opponent we could have got.”
Gyori will be
without head coach Attila Pinter on Wednesday, as well as in the return leg,
after he was banned for two games for an offense committed during a Champions
League match against Dinamo Zagreb in August 2010. His assistant Jozsef Farkas
will take his place on the bench.
Gyori, which ended a 30-year wait for
the Hungarian top-flight title last season, clinching the championship with
three matches to spare, looks to be entering Wednesday in top form after
outplaying Debrecen 3-0 in the Hungarian Super Cup on Saturday.
watching Gyori in the Super Cup, Sousa believes Maccabi will be the clear
underdog in the tie.
“I think they have a much better chance than us,” he
said. “They have had the same coach for three seasons. They have players
in key positions that have been playing together for years. They
practically destroyed Debrecen and are in form.”
insisted that Maccabi will be aiming to win Wednesday’s first leg, although he
first and foremost would like to see his team score an away goal ahead of next
week’s decider in Jaffa.
“In the qualifying rounds the most important
thing when you play away in the first game is to score goals,” he
“I always believe we can win. I don’t prepare my teams to draw or