Mac TA, Mac Haifa look to strike first at home

Israeli clubs open group stage with Greens hosting Alkmaar and yellow-and-blue entertaining APOEL.

Maccabi Tel Aviv midfielder Eran Zahavi 370 (photo credit: Adi Avishai and Uzi Gal)
Maccabi Tel Aviv midfielder Eran Zahavi 370
(photo credit: Adi Avishai and Uzi Gal)
Maccabi Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa have high hopes of reaching the knockout rounds of the Europa League and they have got an ideal opportunity to get the group stage off to a winning start on Thursday with both playing their openers at home.
Tel Aviv, which was gifted a berth to the group stage, benefiting from the consequences of a match-fixing scandal in Ukraine from April 2008, hosts APOEL Nicosia of Cyprus at Bloomfield Stadium while Haifa welcomes Dutch club AZ Alkmaar at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium.
Since dropping to the Europa League after being knocked out in the Champions League third qualifying round by Basel, Tel Aviv has won both its Premier League matches to go top of the standings with Hapoel Beersheba.
Nicosia, on the other hand, has so far won just one of six matches in all competitions this season. The Cypriots, who found themselves in the Europa League after being drawn to replace the banned Fenerbahçe SK, beat Paralimni in their local league opener but dropped to a surprise defeat at AEL Limassol on Saturday.
Haifa, which outscored its Europa opponents 16-1 to advance to the group stage, will also be entering its group opener on the back of an unexpected defeat after losing 3-2 to Ashdod SC two weeks ago.
Nevertheless, Haifa’s overall start to the season has been very impressive, and coach Arik Benado believes his team can compete with an AZ side which is currently in fifth position after six matches in the Dutch league, defeating Go Ahead Eagles 3-0 on Sunday for its third league win.
AZ qualified for the Europa League after winning the Dutch cup last season, but only made it through to the group stage on away goals after losing 2-0 at home to Atromitos of Greece (3-3 on aggregate).
“Alkmaar has a very lethal attack and is a very good team,” Benado told his players.
“But we are also a good team and we can beat them. It is going to be a good battle.”