Hapoel TA, Maccabi Haifa stride towards Europa progress

Israeli teams secure progress to Europa League third qualifying round to be held in Nyon, Switerland on Friday.

UEFA Europa League Logo 311 (photo credit: Mark Keppler/AP)
UEFA Europa League Logo 311
(photo credit: Mark Keppler/AP)
Hapoel Tel Aviv effectively secured its progress to the Europa League third qualifying round with a 4-1 win over PFC Beroe in Bulgaria on Thursday. Maccabi Haifa took a significant step to joining it 30 minutes later with a 2-0 home victory over Xazar Lankaran of Azerbaijan.
Hapoel needed just nine minutes to all but clinch the tie. New Brazilian midfielder Lucas Sasha chipped the goalkeeper from just inside the halfway line in the fifth minute and Omer Damari doubled the advantage a mere four minutes later.
Ventsislav Hirstov gave Beroe a lifeline in the 25th minute, but Damari (54) and Itay Shechter (60) ensured next Thursday’s second leg will essentially be a formality.
Haifa will take a two-goal cushion to Azerbaijan next week, with a sensational Hen Ezra (37) strike and an Alon Turgeman (55) effort giving the Greens a deserved win at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium.
The draw for the third qualifying round, that will also include Hapoel Ramat Gan, which won the State Cup last season after being relegated to the National League, will already take place on Friday.
The Champions League third qualifying round draw will also be held in Nyon, Switzerland on Friday, with Maccabi Tel Aviv waiting to discover who it will likely face next.
Like Haifa and Hapoel, Maccabi will also play the return leg of its second qualifying round tie next week. However, Wednesday’s 2-0 road win over Hungarian champion Gyori ETO has given Maccabi a very comfortable cushion ahead of the second leg at Bloomfield Stadium on Tuesday. Nevertheless, new coach Paulo Sousa isn’t counting his chickens just yet.
“We faced a difficult opponent but we played well in the second half and dominated the match,” Sousa said.
“This is not the end of the story, we have another match at home and we must continue to develop the team. In my opinion we have a considerable advantage going into the return leg, but you must always respect your opponents and work hard to manage the next game as well as this one.”
Maccabi will not be seeded in Friday’s draw, meaning it could face the likes of FC Basel, which reached the Champions League last 16 in 2011/12, and Scottish giant Celtic, which beat Northern Ireland’s Cliftonville 3-0 in the first leg this week.
To reach the group stage, Maccabi will need to not only overcome Gyori, but also triumph in two more home-and-away ties in the third qualifying round and the playoff stage.