Betar's European season on the line

Betar, Hapoel Tel Aviv and Bnei Yehuda need comebacks to advance in UEFA Cup.

betar jerusalem 298.88 (photo credit:
betar jerusalem 298.88
(photo credit:
After Maccabi Haifa's heroic but unfruitful performance against Liverpool earlier this week, another three Israeli teams will be involved in European action on Thursday night. Betar Jerusalem, Hapoel Tel Aviv and Bnei Yehuda suffered disappointing losses in the first leg of their respective UEFA Cup second round qualifiers two weeks ago and a drastic improvement will be needed in order to progress. With UEFA still not allowing Israeli teams to play European ties in Israel, Arkadi Gaydamak's Betar Jerusalem is in Sofia, Bulgaria for the "home" leg of its encounter with Dinamo Bucharest. Catalin Munteanu scored the late winner for the Romanians in the first game, which will require the yellow-and-black to score at least once to stand a chance to qualify for the third round. "The chances are good." Betar coach Osvaldo Ardiles told reporters ahead of the game. "Obviously they are favorites since they won the first leg, but there is still a lot of football to be played. The key is to score goals and we'll be going for it." Ardiles will have to manage without new signing Arik Benado, who is unavailable because he was listed as a Maccabi Haifa player while the club competed in the Champions League. As per UEFA regulations, players can't play for two different clubs during the same European season. To make matters worse, center back Tomer Ben Yosef is still suffering from a knee injury and his status for the game is uncertain. Ben Yosef, a regular starter, will undergo a late fitness test before a decision is reached by the team's medical staff. "It's a must win situation for us," left winger Michael Zandberg emphasized. "We are not playing at home, and that has taken away our advantage. But we have accepted the reality and we'll do our best in Sofia." Betar owner Gaydamak has sponsored a special flight to Sofia, which will bring around 220 fans to the game that was originally supposed to he held at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem. Hapoel Tel Aviv, will be hoping to successfully overcome Slovenian outfit Domzale in Ljubljana. The Reds were stunned by a Zlatan Ljubijankic winner in stoppage time, that gave the Slovenians a 2-1 advantage ahead of the second leg. Tel Aviv coach Itzhak Schum will field an attacking formation, as the Reds have to score at least twice to cancel Domzale's away goal advantage. Ibazito Ogabuna is expected to be promoted to the starting lineup, in order to partner Elyaniv Barda and Ivan Jolic. "It's a tough game, but there are no easy games in Europe," Schum commented before departing for Slovenia. "A total team effort is needed, in defense and in offense. The last game didn't work out as planned, but we will try to rectify out mistakes from last time." Domzale's leading marksman, Sebastian Cimirotic, will be unavailable for the encounter. The former Hapoel Tel Aviv striker, who missed a penalty in the first leg, sustained a nasty injury in his team's weekend league fixture and will not participate in the game. "This is a must-win game. We have to score goals and win," a determined Baruch Dego said. "The atmosphere in the team is very positive right now. We have analyzed our mistakes and are ready to take on the challenge." The third Israeli team involved in the UEFA Cup second qualifying round is Bnei Yehuda, which has the least chance to advance to the next stage. The Oranges take on Lokomotiv Sofia in a tough away fixture, with a 0-2 deficit from the first leg. "We have to face reality. The odds are against us, with the away game and two goal deficit," Bnei Yehuda coach Nitzan Shirazi acknowledged. "We paid due to lack of experience and poor form in the first game. But we'll try to produce a respectable performance this time." Shirazi will probably be shuffling his starting eleven, demoting forward Lior Asulin and midfielder Matte Baturina in favor of Eli Biton and Barak Badash. Despite the team's uphill struggle in the tie, around 100 Israeli fans are expected to make their way to Sofia. An exceptionally hostile atmosphere is expected at the stadium, after the Lokomotiv Sofia website featured anti-Semitic content prior to the first leg. The winning teams will be included in Thursday UEFA Cup draw, which will decide the matchups for the first round which will be played on 14 and 28 September.