New-look Maccabi set to debut

Mizrahi hopes for good first impression against Mogren in Europa League qualifier.

Maccabi Tel Aviv Liran Strauber 311 (photo credit: Asif Kliger)
Maccabi Tel Aviv Liran Strauber 311
(photo credit: Asif Kliger)
After going through a complete overhaul in the summer, Maccabi Tel Aviv faces its first test at Bloomfield Stadium on Thursday night.
Maccabi hosts FK Mogren of Montenegro in the first leg of the Europa League second qualifying round and new coach Yossi Mizrahi admitted on Wednesday that he too is curious to see how the rebuilt side plays in its first official match.
“This team has so far played just three training matches together,” Mizrahi said.
“To my surprise we looked pretty good in parts of those matches, but the real test will come on Thursday. We are all curious to see what happens.”
Maccabi is playing in European competition for the first time in three years and Mizrahi knows there will be no excuse for an early exit.
“We are facing a very organized team which knows how to play on the road,” he said. “It won’t be an easy match, but the final result depends on us. If we play well we will win.”
Mogren, which finished third in the Montenegrin league last season, advanced to the second qualifying round after beating Andorran club Santa Coloma 5-0 on aggregate.
The Maccabi lineup on Thursday will be unrecognizable compared to the side that played last season.
Liran Strauber remains Tel Aviv’s first goalkeeper, but the team is expected to start with its brand new back-four against Mogren. Israel international Avi Strul and Brazilian Nivaldo will form the center of the defense, while Klemi Saban and Yoav Ziv will play on the right and left, respectively.
Fellow new signings Bosnian Haris Medunjanin and Cameroonian Albert Baning will be looking to impress in the midfield.
Shiran Yeini and Maur Buzaglo, both of whom survived last season’s squad, which finished in third position in the Premier League, will also start on Thursday.
Strikers Roberto Colautti and Barak Itzhaki have each scored dozens of goals while at Maccabi Haifa and Betar Jerusalem, respectively, and on Thursday, they will continue to work on their partnership up-front in the yellow-and-blue jersey.
“We built a new team and I’m certain there will be some excitement among the players, but these players have competed in bigger matches than this and I’m sure they will relax when the game starts,” Mizrahi said.
“I have no doubt that as the season progresses we will play better and better. We have very talented players and I’m optimistic.”
The 57-year-old Mizrahi joined Maccabi this year from Ashdod SC and confessed on Wednesday that his time at the club so far has been a true pleasure.
“I’m excited,” he said. “I’m enjoying every minute at Maccabi. It is a real delight to build a new team at a club like this. I hope I continue to enjoy myself.”
Also Thursday, Bnei Yehuda plays its first leg of the second qualifying round against Shamrock Rovers in Dublin’s Tallaght Stadium.
Bnei Yehuda eked out a 1-0 aggregate victory over Armenia’s FC Ulysses in the first qualifying round last week, but defender Kfir Edri is confident the team is improving with every day that passes.
“I think we are ready,” Edri said.
“We are getting stronger with every match and I hope we show improvement and record a good result ahead of the return leg at home.”
Meanwhile, Maccabi Tel Aviv will be ruing its luck after the fixtures of the upcoming 2010/11 Premier League season were revealed on Wednesday.
Tel Aviv was drawn to host Maccabi Haifa in a mouth watering curtain raiser to the new season, which gets underway on August 21, with the yellow-and-blue to visit Betar Jerusalem at Teddy Stadium the following week.
Reigning champion Hapoel Tel Aviv faces Hapoel Haifa at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium in its season opener, with the Reds to host the first Tel Aviv derby on October 16 in their sixth match of the campaign.