Israeli soccer teams are once again in European qualification action this week as Maccabi Haifa, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Beersheba will all look to put themselves in position to move into the playoff rounds of their respective continental competitions.
Maccabi Haifa, fresh off a UEFA Champions League second-round qualifying win over Greek powerhouse Olympiacos, will welcome Apollon Limassol for the first leg of third-round qualifying as the Cypriot champion will be playing its first official match of the 2022/23 season.
Limassol’s German head coach Alexander Zorniger has been in charge of Red Bull Leipzig, Stuttgart and Brondby before taking over behind the bench of the island nation’s title holder at the beginning of last season.
One familiar player for Limassol will be Ido Shachar, who is on loan from Maccabi Tel Aviv, as the club looks to play in the group stages of a European competition for the first time since the 2018/19 campaign when they featured in the Europa League.
The Greens and manager Barak Bachar will look to move into the top-tier playoff round and should they falter in the two-legged tie, they will begin their European season in the Conference League group stages.
However, Haifa looks to be favored in this matchup and coming off a dominating victory over Olympiacos, its supporters will fill the Tsirio Stadium for the second leg next week.
Conference League roundup
Maccabi Tel Aviv will welcome ARIS Thessaloniki from Greece for the first leg of the third round of Conference League qualifying as the yellow-and-blue fans are expected to pack into the 30,000-seater Bloomfield Stadium to cheer on their club.
Vladimir Ivic’s side may have Israeli superstar Eran Zahavi included in the squad for the first time since he returned from abroad after the striker scored in a friendly over the weekend.
Former Argentinian ’keeper Germán Burgos mans the sidelines for the Greek outfit after having joined the club this past February after a short run at Newell’s Old Boys.
Last week, Maccabi Tel Aviv advanced to the third round after playing Zira to a 1-1 draw as the yellow-and-blue easily won the two games by an aggregate score of 3-0 over the Azerbaijan squad.
“I wanted to see a different type of game as we wanted to play,” Ivic said. “I believe that we didn’t play well enough and we have to keep working in order to improve. I will analyze the game with the players and they just weren’t here. It looks like we didn’t prepare well enough for this match. We won the first game because we were serious and accrued quick early goals. We still have much to do in order to improve.”
Nir Bitton, who made his Maccabi Tel Aviv debut, reflected on his return to Israel.
“It’s great to be back playing in Israel and I worked hard during the break to get to this point. I came to a big club that believes in me and I am here to give back everything that I have. The club knew that I had wanted to remain abroad, but I am also a person that likes certainty in life and they showed me how much they really wanted me.”
Meanwhile, Hapoel Beersheba will head to Switzerland to take on a familiar foe, Lugano, in the third round of Conference League qualifying after having disposed of Dinamo Minsk.
Elyaniv Barda’s team played in the same Europa League group as Lugano in the 2017/18 campaign, but this time around former Swiss right-back Mattia Croci-Torti is the club’s head coach after having joined the club last season.
Last week, Hapoel Beersheba defeated Dinamo Minsk 1-0 (3-1 on aggregate) as Rotem Hatuel scored the only goal of the match to send the Southern Reds into the third round of Conference League qualifying.
“We had a lot to lose in this game after having won the last game unconvincingly,” Barda said. “To play in an empty stadium is very hard to bring energy, but we played well and we can take that from this game. We made it through this game and we have plenty to improve.”
Also, Maccabi Netanya was knocked out of Europe after falling to Istanbul Basaksehir 1-0 (1-2 on aggregate).
Youssouf Ndayishimiye headed home the lone goal of the match in the ninth minute of play for Basaksehir. The defeat at the Netanya Stadium in the second leg of the second round of Conference League qualifying eliminated Benny Lam’s squad from continental action.
“All in all, I am proud of my players and supporters,” Lam began following the game. “We are a big club and a good team and we almost scored in the 95th minute. We proved that we were no less of a team, but we played against a very tough side. We want to get back to Europe next season.”
In Toto Cup action, Hapoel Tel Aviv took out Hapoel Jerusalem 3-1 on goals by Hisham Layous, Shlomi Azulay and Omer Senior, as Itay Zaza responded for the Reds.
Bnei Sakhnin slipped by Hapoel Haifa 2-0 on strikes by Hassan Hilo and Guy Melamed, while Klemen Šturm scored the lone goal in Hapoel Hadera’s 1-0 triumph over Ironi Kiryat Shmona.