Crucial 2nd-leg contests for Israeli clubs

Maccabi Haifa visits Olympiacos in Champions League • Maccabi TA, Beersheba, Netanya confident

TJARONN CHERY and Maccabi Haifa have their work cut out for them in tonight's second-leg duel with Olympiacos in Greece following last week’s 1-1 draw in Israel. (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
TJARONN CHERY and Maccabi Haifa have their work cut out for them in tonight's second-leg duel with Olympiacos in Greece following last week’s 1-1 draw in Israel.
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)

We may still be just midway through the summer, but a quartet of Israeli soccer teams have crucial matchups this week in order to continue playing in European competitions.

Maccabi Haifa will look to move into the third round of UEFA Champions League qualifying when it visits Olympiacos on Wednesday for the second leg of their tie following a 1-1 draw last week at Sammy Ofer Stadium.

The Greens will head to Piraeus, Greece, level thanks to a lucky goal by Dolev Haziza in second-half injury time to cancel out Philip Zinckernagel’s seventh-minute marker in the first leg by the Carmel Mountain.

Barak Bachar’s team will need to win in Athens in order to move into the third round, where it would play Apollon Limassol from Cyprus.

If Haifa falls to Olympiacos, it will head to Europa League third-round qualifying and face the loser of the Ferencváros from Hungary and Slovan Bratislava from Slovakia tie, with the winner moving onto the playoff round. The first leg between the two clubs ended 2-1 in favor of Bratislava.

Haifa played well in Israel, with numerous scoring chances along with a couple of goals having been called off due to offside calls. That performance gives Bachar confidence as his side travels to Karaiskaki Stadium.

“We still control our own destiny and anything is possible,” said the Haifa coach. “Sammy Ofer is something totally different than Piraeus, but we have to believe as we have a strong team that can do it all.”

Israeli Conference League 

In Conference League action, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Beersheba recorded victories last week while Maccabi Netanya picked up a draw in first-leg, second-round play.

Maccabi Tel Aviv

On Thursday, Maccabi Tel Aviv blanked Zira 3-0 in Azerbaijan to get the continental campaign off to a good start as Djordje Jovanovic scored a brace to give the yellow-and-blue a comfortable lead heading into the return leg back in Israel next week.

Gaby Kanichowsky took a Brandley Kuwas ball and opened the scoring with a low liner that beat Mekhti Dzhenetov to give Vladen Ivic’s squad a 1-0 lead in the 18th minute.

Jovanovic doubled the advantage less than five minutes later when he redirected an Eyal Golasa cross in the box, and completed his brace early on in the second half when he slammed home a chance from close to help Maccabi take the away victory.

Should the yellow-and-blue advance to the third round, it will face the winner of the Gomel from Belarus and Aris Thessaloniki from Greece matchup. Their first leg ended 5-1 for Aris.

Ivic was content after his club’s first-leg showing against Zira.

“This was our first official game in Europe after a month of preparation. We did what we needed to in order to get the team ready for this game and while we may not be playing at a high level, what’s important to me is that we worked hard from the first moment all the way until the end and that is what gave us the victory.”

Kanichowsky noted that he is looking forward to seeing the local fans back at Bloomfield Stadium.

“We want to finish this first challenge. I hope that the fans will come out and cheer us on because we need them. They are our backbone and I am counting on them to come to the stadium.”

Hapoel Beersheba

In the southern capital, meanwhile, Hapoel Beersheba got by Dinamo Minsk 2-1 in the first of two matches at Turner Stadium as the Reds will not travel to Belarus due to the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine. However, for fairness concerns, the second leg will be played without the Beersheba fans in the stadium

Sagiv Yehezkel scored a quick goal as he latched onto a Eugene Ansah ball to give Elyaniv Barda’s squad a 1-0 lead just 44 seconds into the game.

Rotem Hatuel gave the hosts a 2-0 lead when he nodded home a Tomer Yosefi ball, but Artem Kontsevoi pulled back a late goal for Minsk to head into the second contest with a chance to overcome the deficit.

If Beersheba makes it by Minsk, a date with Swiss side Lugano will be waiting in the third round of qualifying.

“We could have made a significant step, but one can’t forget that this was the first official European game against a team that didn’t make our lives easy,” Beersheba’s Barda commented. “We gave up a goal after we were comfortably in the lead, but we won an important European game and we want to win the next game as well.

“I always want to play here in Turner as the fans contribute and will help us. Next game there won’t be any fans and it won’t be a walk in the park as it will be a very tough game and we have to be as ready as possible.”

Maccabi Netanya

Also, in perhaps the most interesting Conference League tie, Maccabi Netanya and İstanbul Başakşehir played to a 1-1 draw as the Turkish squad was out-played for the most part of the game in the first leg.

Gil Itzhak received a fantastic pass from Patrick Twumasi to head home the opening goal for Benny Lam’s team in the first minute, while Patryk Szysz leveled the score in the 82nd minute for the hosts as the tie will be settled on Thursday in Netanya.

Should the Israeli squad advance to the third round, it will play the winner of the Breidablik from Iceland or Buducnost from Montenegro tie as their first leg went to Breidablik by the score of 2-0.

“We began the game really well and we pressed, along with not allowing them to find a way into the game,” Lam explained. “We can now also take into account that the return leg will be held in a jammed-packed stadium at home in Israel, which will hopefully work to our advantage.”