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Hapoel Beersheba will need Czech striker Tomas Pekhart to be at his best against Lugano in Europa League action tonight with the team missing four other strikers through injury..(Photo by: DANNY MARON)
Beersheba, Mac TA eye opening Europa wins
Hapoel welcomes Lugano in first group stage match, yellow-and-blue faces Slavia in Prague
With last season’s experience still fresh in their memories, Hapoel Beersheba and Maccabi Tel Aviv enter their Europa League group stage openers on Thursday night desperate for a winning start.

While each team will play six games in the group stage, the result of their openers in 2016/17 ended up setting the tone for their entire campaigns and also went a long way to determining their ultimate outcome.

Beersheba’s 2-0 win against Inter Milan at San Siro will always remain one of the greatest results in club history and the twotime defending Premier League champion built on that victory to go on and reach the round of 32, finishing ahead of Inter and Southampton.

Maccabi also seemed set for a memorable victory when it held a 3-0 lead late in its showdown with Russian powerhouse Zenit St. Petersburg at the start of last season.

However, the yellow-and-blue would concede four goals in 15 minutes of madness to lose 4-3 in Netanya. Maccabi never recovered from the painful blow to its confidence, finishing the group in third place and failing to qualify for the next round.

Maccabi visits Slavia Prague in the Czech Republic on Thursday, while Hapoel hosts Lugano of Switzerland at Turner Stadium.

Lugano qualified automatically for the group stage after finishing the Swiss league in third place last season. It has picked up just eight points from its first seven local matches this season, losing 3-0 to Young Boys on Sunday.

After claiming a single point from its first two league games, Beersheba registered its first victory on Saturday, beating Hapoel Ashkelon 1-0 thanks to Maharan Radi’s dramatic winner.

“We want to build on last season’s success and it is important we get off on the right foot,” said Beersheba coach Barak Bachar, with Group G also including Viktoria Plzen of the Czech Republic and Steaua Bucharest of Romania. “We recorded an important win over Ashkelon and we want to build some momentum.”

While Beersheba received a place in the Europa groups as a consolation for being knocked out in the Champions League playoffs, Maccabi came through four qualifying rounds for a second straight year.

Tel Aviv’s chances of making the knockout rounds for the first time after four years suffered a blow before it even played its first match though, after being placed in Group A with Villarreal of Spain and the champions of the Czech Republic and Kazakhstan, Slavia Prague and Astana, respectively.

Eli Cohen and Beitar part ways After just 10 days on the job, Eli Cohen resigned from his position as a professional adviser at Beitar Jerusalem on Wednesday.

The veteran coach was brought in to work together with coach Gili Lavenda, who was promoted from his role as an assistant coach to replace the sacked Sharon Mimer ahead of the season.

Cohen was pushed out on Wednesday after angering Beitar owner Eli Tabib and club boss Eli Ohana for saying in an interview published in daily Yedioth Ahronoth that he wouldn’t sign a Muslim player to the team as Beitar fans are unwilling to accept one.

Cohen explained that he wants to avoid a repeat of the violent protests that followed the signing of two Chechen Muslims while he coached the team in 2013
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