Soccer: Which of the three will survive?

Hap TA expects easy match, Bnei Yehuda has no room for error, Mac Netanya plays for pride in Europa League matches tonight.

hapoel tel aviv 224.88 (photo credit: )
hapoel tel aviv 224.88
(photo credit: )
Israel's three representatives in the Europa League enter Thursday's third qualifying round return legs in completely different situations. While Hapoel Tel Aviv will be expecting to cruise into the final qualifying round after defeating IFK Göteborg 3-1 on the road last week, Maccabi Netanya is only hoping to avoid embarrassment in Turkey following its 4-1 humbling by Galatasaray at home. Bnei Yehuda is the one Israeli team which will have everything to play for on Thursday after claiming a slender 1-0 victory over Portugal's FC Paços de Ferreira at Bloomfield Stadium in the first leg. Despite trailing 1-0 against Göteborg at halftime in Sweden, Hapoel scored three late goals through Itay Shechter, Samuel Yeboah and Bibres Natcho, and gave itself a comfortable cushion for the second leg. However, the impressive victory was quickly forgotten after Shechter and defender Douglas Da Silva were questioned in connection with a rape investigation and were only allowed to leave Sweden 24 hours after their teammates. Coach Eli Gutman was confident on Wednesday that his team will not suffer any lingering effects from the scandal. "I'm sure the players learned their lesson," Gutman said. "All in all, they are good guys and sometimes you just need to move on. I have no doubt the players will not repeat the same mistake again." Despite Hapoel's significant advantage, Gutman was adamant that the tie is far from over. "The most important thing is that we don't underestimate our opponent following the result in Sweden," Gutman said. "We must respect Göteborg, although the result in the first leg does give us a lot of confidence." Göteborg coach Stefan Rehn knows his team is unlikely to advance. "We are facing a good team and our chances aren't very good, but regardless we will try to do it," Rehn said. Bnei Yehuda began its continental campaign in the Europa League's first qualifying round and has won every one of its five matches in the competition to date. On Thursday, however, the team will be delighted to settle for a draw as that would be enough to put it through to the qualifying playoffs. "We are facing a complicated match against a very good team," Bnei Yehuda coach Guy Luzon said. "We know all about Paços's strengths and weaknesses and we are aiming to continue and progress in Europe." Eliran Atar is expected to return to the starting lineup after coming on as a substitute in the first leg and scoring three minutes later. "We need to avoid conceding and hopefully we can score an early goal which will make life much easier for us," midfielder Kfir Edri said. "We believe we can make it through to the group stage, but we are focusing on this match and making sure we return home with a smile on our faces." Netanya has already come to terms with the fact that its European campaign will end on Thursday and coach Nati Azariya is just hoping his youngsters can learn from playing at the daunting Ali Sami Yen Stadium. "We are hoping to use this match as a preparation for our league campaign," Azariya said. "Our team is going through a rebuilding process with the hope of a brighter future. This match will be tougher than the first leg. Galatasaray is a Champions League-caliber team and we must be realistic. It will be difficult to surprise them, but our only real goal in this match is that our young players will gain experience."