Euro Soccer: Israelis preparing for UEFA Cup clashes

Mac TA hosts Turks Erciyesspor; Hap TA at Bosnians Siroki Brijeg; Mac Netanya at Lieria in Portugal.

uefa 88 (photo credit: )
uefa 88
(photo credit: )
Three of Israel's top clubs will look to take a significant step towards the main draw of the UEFA Cup with victories in the first leg of the competition's second and final qualifying round on Thursday night. Maccabi Tel Aviv hosts Turkish side Erciyesspor at Bloomfield Stadium, Hapoel Tel Aviv visits Bosnian cup holder Siroki Brijeg and Maccabi Netanya makes its first-ever UEFA Cup appearance against UD Lieria in Portugal. Maccabi Tel Aviv, which reached the second qualifying round by defeating Andorran minnows Santa Coloma 4-1 on aggregate, again faces an opponent it should, in theory, get the better of with ease. Erciyesspor was relegated from the Turkish top division last season, but nevertheless booked its place in Europe after losing in the cup final to Besiktas. The yellow-and-blue will, however, remember the embarrassing 1-0 defeat it suffered in the first leg against Santa Coloma and will be looking to open as big a lead as possible ahead of the second leg in Turkey. "We still don't know that much about the Turkish side, but we need to nevertheless win this match," said Maccabi striker Yannick Kamanan, who scored two goals in his team's 4-0 victory over Santa Coloma at Bloomfield. "We need to try and score as many goals as possible. Maccabi is a big club and faces high expectations." Last season's Premier League top scorer Yaniv Azran, who joined Maccabi Tel Aviv from Ashdod, will make his European debut for the team after missing the club's matches against Santa Coloma. "We're feeling good about our chances," he said. "The match will be difficult despite the fact that the Turkish team has been relegated." Erciyesspor coach Mehmet Bolut was confident ahead of the match and, despite complimenting Maccabi, admitted that he expects his team to advance. "I havn't seen Maccabi's matches against Santa Coloma, but I've read reports and know that Maccabi is a very strong side," Bolut said. "Maccabi Tel Aviv is a big club just like Galatasaray and Fenerbahce. Israeli soccer has improved recently, but I believe that we can knock out Maccabi." Hapoel Tel Aviv will need to get its European campaign off to a positive start in Bosnia if it's to repeat last season's UEFA Cup run. Hapoel, which reached the round of 32 of the UEFA Cup last year, has rebuilt the side over the summer, with new coach Guy Luzon adding no less than seven players to his squad. Lior Asulin, who joined the team from Bnei Yehuda, wasn't shy about the side's aspirations in Europe this season. "Our goal is to reach the group stage, only that will be considered a success," the striker said. Luzon, who coached Maccabi Petah Tikva in the UEFA Cup, said he believed the second leg will be much more important than Thursday's game. "Hapoel is better than Siroki and obviously we would like to advance," Luzon said. "From my experiences in Europe the battle will not end in the first leg and the tie will be decided in two weeks time." Maccabi Netanya faces the toughest match of the three Israeli sides on Thursday and will need to be at its best if it's to maintain its hopes of advancing. Lieria, which finished in seventh position in the Portuguese league last season, reached the first round of the UEFA Cup last year and is the favorite ahead of the first leg. "The players are ready and are primed for the match," said Netanya coach Reuvan Atar, who is unconcerned with the fact that the club's only previous European experience was in the Intertoto Cup. "I have many players who have European experience with other clubs and most of the remaining players also have experience playing for their national teams." Dedi Ben-Dayan, who was key in his team's second place finish last season, couldn't hide his excitement ahead of the historic encounter. "The team is ready and all the players can't wait to get on the pitch," he said. "This is an historic match for the club and we will do our best to represent Israel in the best possible way and return home for the second leg with a good result. "The Portuguese league is better than the Israeli premiership and I think we're entering the match as an underdog. The tie will be tight and I hope that we can record a good result away and book our place in the next round at home."