UEFA Soccer: Haifa duels Aktobe in Champions League
Suddenly surging Bnei Yehuda gunning for fifth straight Europa League victory vs Pa?os.
By JERUSALEM POST STAFF
After strolling in the Champions League second qualifying round against Northern Ireland's Glentoran, Maccabi Haifa faces a far tougher challenge on Tuesday when it visits Aktobe FC of Kazakhstan in the first leg of the third qualifying round.
Nevertheless, Haifa, which completed a ridiculously easy 10-0 aggregate victory over Glentoran last week, will be a firm favorite against Aktobe in the penultimate qualifying stage for the Champions League group phase.
Aktobe had never progressed in European competition until it got the better of FH HafnarfjÃ¶rdur of Iceland in the second qualifying round, and its eight-match continental experience pales in comparison to Haifa's European pedigree, with the Israeli champion to play its 75th match in UEFA competition on Tuesday.
"We have a good team which can win anywhere. We are treating this match like any other and are hoping to open an advantage ahead of next week's second leg at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium," midfielder Biram Kiyal said.
"We've watched some DVD's of Akotbe and we saw a very physical team which will be difficult to beat."
Coach Elisha Levy is expected to bring Yaniv Katan and Mohammed Ghadir back into the lineup for Tuesday's match, which he believes will be extremely tough.
"We are facing a good opponent, a strong and organized home team," Levy said. "We understand the meaning of this match, but we are also hoping to enjoy ourselves."
Aktobe's Russian coach Vladimir Mukhanov is confident of his team's chances against Haifa.
"Haifa is obviously a very strong team, but I hope the fact that my players have already started to play in the Kazakh league will work in our advantage," Mukhanov said.
In other Israeli soccer news, Bnei Yehuda hosts FC PaÃ§os de Ferreira of Portugal in the first leg of the Europa League's third qualifying round at Bloomfield Stadium on Tuesday.
Guy Luzon's team has won all four of its matches in the first and second qualifying rounds, but the coach is expecting a far tougher game on Tuesday.
"All I can say is that the Portuguese are stronger than the teams from Azerbaijan and Latvia we previously faced," said Luzon, whose team beat Simurq PFC of Azerbaijan 4-0 on aggregate before thrashing Dinaburg FC of Latvia 5-0 over two legs.
"The Portuguese league is stronger than the Israeli league, but we are aiming to progress to the final qualifying round."
PaÃ§os coach Paulo Sergio claimed he knows nothing about Bnei Yehuda.
"I know it will be a difficult match, but I don't know much about Bnei Yehuda," Sergio said. "We are happy to be part of the Europa League, but our goal is to do well in the Portuguese league."
Meanwhile, Hapoel Tel Aviv and Maccabi Netanya will play their third qualifying round first legs on Thursday.
Tel Aviv visits two-time UEFA Cup winner IFK Goteborg of Sweden, with Netanya to host Turkish giant Galatasaray at Bloomfield Stadium.
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