Hap TA faces mission impossible in Cyprus

Reds look to overturn 3-0 first-leg defeat to Astana while Beersheba trails Split 2-1.

Hapoel Tel Aviv midfielder Gili Vermut (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Hapoel Tel Aviv midfielder Gili Vermut
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Amid the ongoing turmoil at the club, Hapoel Tel Aviv will require a miracle on the pitch to avoid an early Europa League exit on Thursday.
Hapoel hosts Astana of Kazakhstan in Larnaca, Cyprus in the second leg of the Europa League second qualifying round, hoping to erase a 3-0 deficit from the first leg.
Hapoel played with 10 men from the 15th minute in Kazakhstan and never managed to stamp its authority on the match. However, even though it is well on course to already being knocked out of Europe in July, the club’s troubles off the field dwarf anything that is happening on the pitch.
Hapoel’s budget shrunk by around 30 percent after part-owner Ido Hagag announced he was leaving earlier this week, meaning new manager Eyal Berkovic will be the one making all the important decisions from now on.
Striker Omer Damari is on his way out of the club and didn’t fly with the team to Cyprus, with Berkovic admitting that star midfielder Gili Vermut could also follow suit.
“The club is sick from a financial standpoint,” explained Berkovic.
“Heads will need to roll, the budget will need to be cut and players will have to leave. If we want the club to live we have to take drastic measures.
“Damari is definitely going to leave,” added Berkovic. “We need that money. Considering the current situation, Vermut might also leave. I knew the club was in a bad state when I joined but not this bad.”
Should Hapoel complete an unlikely comeback, it will next play the winner of the tie between Linfield FC of Northern Ireland and AIK Solna of Sweden.
Despite also losing in the first leg, Hapoel Beersheba is optimistic of reaching the third qualifying round when it hosts RNK Split in the second leg on Thursday, also in Larnaca due to the security situation in Israel.
Beersheba, playing in European competition for the first time in 17 years, led 1-0 in Croatia, only to concede two goals in the final 12 minutes of the match.
Beersheba was forced to rearrange its travel plans on Wednesday after its flight with a Cypriot airline was cancelled.
The team eventually boarded an El Al flight two hours later, further complicating its preparations for the match after having to run for shelter time and again during training in recent weeks.
“We live in an abnormal reality,” said coach Elisha Levy. “We haven’t been able to prepare for the match the way we would have liked, but we will do whatever we can to bring some joy to our fans.”
Chornomorets Odesa of Ukraine awaits Beersheba in the next round, while Ironi Kiryat Shmona, which will only begin its participation in the competition in the third qualifying round, was drawn to face Dinamo Moscow.
Meanwhile, two-time defending Israeli champion Maccabi Tel Aviv added two significant players to its squad after reaching an agreement with French side FC Toulouse and Spanish outfit Real Betis for the transfers of Israeli striker Eden Ben-Basat and Nigerian midfielder Nosa Igiebor respectively.
“Eden and Nosa are two highly talented players who know the Israeli league and I am sure they will contribute to the strengthening of our squad,” sports director Jordi Cruyff told the club’s official website.
The 27-year-old Ben-Basat made 90 league and cup appearances in France, scoring 21 goals for Brest and Toulouse since leaving Israel in 2011. The 23 year-old Igiebor, who is set to sign a three-year deal at the club, returns to Israel after spending two seasons in Seville.