Crunch time for coach-less Mac TA

Yellows face Turkish side Erciyesspor in UEFA Cup; Hap TA hosts Siroki Brijeg; Mac Netanya plays Lieria in Haifa.

kamanan 224.88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
kamanan 224.88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Avi Nimni's influence over happenings at Maccabi Tel Aviv reached mythical proportions long ago. However, in Turkey on Thursday night Nimni will have unprecedented control over the team, even by his lofty standards. Besides leading the side from the midfield in the UEFA Cup second qualifying round second leg match against Erciyesspor, the former Israel captain, who was appointed Maccabi's general manager in the summer, will also effectively act as the side's coach. Eli Cohen was fired from the club on Saturday night and even though assistant coach Viki Peretz will be on the team's sideline, Nimni will be the one making all the calls. Maccabi, which drew 1-1 with the Turkish second division side at Bloomfield Stadium in the first leg, will be the first Israeli team in action on Thursday, with Hapoel Tel Aviv and Maccabi Netanya also playing their second legs later in the evening. Hapoel, which hosts Siroki Brijeg at Bloomfield, is as good as through to the main draw of the UEFA Cup after defeating the Bosnian cup holder 3-0 on the road two weeks ago. Netanya's tie, however, is still in the balance after the team's 0-0 draw in Portugal against UD Lieria. Maccabi Tel Aviv's match against Erciyesspor has been shadowed by the ongoing Guy Levy saga. Levy has yet to sign with the club, leaving the team coach-less ahead of the difficult second leg. Maccabi is in serious danger of being knocked out after failing to win its home leg, but Nimni is optimistic his team can advance nevertheless. "Anything can happen in this game and we're preparing for every scenario," the captain said. "We've made the appropriate changes so that our offense and defense will look better than they did in recent matches. "The Levy saga is behind us and we must concentrate on the match. I can't guarantee that Levy will be the Maccabi coach, but I believe that everything will work out when we return from Turkey." Peretz was also hopeful. "All we need is a small 1-0 win and we will return home happy," he said. "People underestimated the Turkish team in the first leg, but we saw how difficult the match was. We must play patiently and sensibly." At Maccabi's arch-rival Hapoel nobody is willing to admit that the team is already through to the next stage and midfielder Walid Badier was very eager to emphasize on Wednesday that nobody is taking Thursday's game lightly. "Despite the score in the first leg we're treating the return leg very seriously. It won't be an easy match," Badier said. Netanya hosts its first ever UEFA Cup match on Thursday at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium in Haifa. The team's home ground in Netanya was not approved to host matches by UEFA, but regardless, the optimism levels in the Maccabi camp are high. "This is the most significant match Netanya has played since I've coached the team," Reuven Atar said. "We achieved a pretty good result in the first leg and we're planning to play in a similar fashion on Thursday." Netanya kept Lieria at bay throughout the first leg and earned a well deserved draw. "The Portuguese will play with the same tactics as they did in the first leg and our players will be ready. I know Lieria's strengths and weaknesses." Goalkeeper Liran Strauber was Netnaya's best player in Portugal and is looking for some divine help on Thursday night. "Lieria is a strong side that plays in a Brazilian style, but we have our own 'Netanyati' style and we will not make it easy for them on Thursday," he said. "We're playing in front of our home fans and with god's help we will get the job done."