Israeli clubs prep for pivotal road challenges

Maccabi Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa enter Thursday night’s Europa League matches in vastly different situations but with a similar target.

MACCABI TEL AVIV players celebrate 370 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
MACCABI TEL AVIV players celebrate 370
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Maccabi Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa enter Thursday night’s Europa League matches in vastly different situations but with a similar target.
After suffering disappointing setbacks in their group stage openers at home two weeks ago, both Tel Aviv and Haifa can’t afford to lose on the road on Thursday.
Tel Aviv visits Girondins de Bordeaux in France, confident of claiming a victory after its record-breaking start to the Premier League.
The defending champion became the first Israeli team ever to win its first four games of the season without conceding a single goal after beating Ironi Kiryat Shmona 3-0 on Saturday.
The yellow-and-blue squandered a golden opportunity to open the group stage with a victory after Barak Itzhaki failed to find the back of the net with a stoppage-time penalty against APOEL Nicosia and the game finished 0-0.
Bordeaux, which qualified for the group stage thanks to its French Cup triumph last season, was beaten 3-0 at Eintract Frankfurt in its first match in Group F and has also struggled in local league play so far this season, currently sitting in 17th place out of 20 teams in Ligue 1 after winning just one of eight matches.
Bordeaux has drawn all three of its league games since the defeat to Frankfurt, but has got an impressive home record in Europe over recent times, going unbeaten in 13 games at Stade Chaban-Delmas before the 3-2 defeat to SL Benfica in last season’s Europa League round-of-16.
Maccabi coach Paulo Sousa is expected to rotate his lineup once more for Thursday’s encounter, with the Portuguese boss set to make at least five changes to the side that started against Kiryat Shmona on Saturday.
Shiran Yeini, Gal Alberman, Maharan Radi, Barak Itzhaki and Rade Prica are all likely to be among Sousa’s starting 11 after sitting out Saturday’s match.
“I still don’t know who will start on Thursday,” Sousa said at the start of the week. “My job is to work with the players and analyze the opponent and make decisions according to that information. This is different to a league game, but we always want to win and play positive soccer.”
While Tel Aviv enters Thursday’s contest brimming with confidence due to its local success, Haifa requires a win at Shakhter Karagandy in its second Group L match not only to resurrect its continental campaign but to also gain much-needed confidence following its recent Premier League slump.
Haifa has picked up just one point from its past three league matches after drawing 0-0 at Bnei Sakhnin on Saturday and its 1-0 loss to AZ Alkmaar in the Europa League two weeks ago seriously complicated its situation after just one game.
Haifa made a 3,600 kilometer trip to Astana, Kazakhstan to take on Karagandy, which came tantalizingly close to qualifying for the Champions League group stage, squandering a 2-0 first-leg advantage in the play-offs at Celtic.
Shakhter lost 2-1 at PAOK Thessaloniki in its group opener, but its home form has been the key to its success in Europe, with the Kazakhs not losing in their last six continental fixtures at home, winning all three of their home European fixtures this season without conceding a goal.
Haifa was welcomed by freezing conditions in Astana, but despite the less than ideal circumstances, coach Arik Benado believes his team can get back on track in the tricky road tie.
“This is a tough road game but we want to record a good result,” Benado said. “I believe in my way, my players and my team.
The guys looked great just two weeks ago. I’m strong and I have no problem with all the criticism.
We have already shown that we are a good team and I promise we will do so again.”