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Mac TA, Beersheba, Bnei Yehuda all look to advance in Europa League

Maccabi Tel Aviv has plenty of work to do in Thursday’s second leg of its Europa League third-round qualifying clash with Suduva after falling 2-1 at the Netanya Stadium in the first leg.

The Lithuanian outfit took a 2-0 lead before Chico Ofoedu pulled back a goal for Vladimir Ivic’s squad to give the Israeli champion a glimmer of hope.

The yellow-and-blue controlled the pace of play in the opening leg, but Suduva’s Samir Kerla scored a 37th-minute header off a perfect cross from Ovidijus Verbickas and then doubled the lead in the 76th minute when substitute Eligijus Jankauskas headed home a Andro Švrljuga corner kick to silence the Maccabi faithful.

“I didn’t see that we were hungry and that is a problem,” said Ivic following the match. “This was our worst game since I came here. But if Suduva could score two goals here, why can’t we score two there. However, we have a problem and we need to fix it.”

Should Maccabi advance to the playoff round, it will face the loser of the matchup between Ferencvaros and Dinamo Zagreb, whose Champions League third-round first leg ended in a 1-1 draw.

Meanwhile, Hapoel Beersheba is in a much brighter position vs Norrkoping in their third-round Europa League tilt, drawing the first leg 1-1 on the road and heading into Thursday’s back-end at Turner Stadium with an away-goal advantage.

“This was a very challenging and physical match,” said Beersheba coach Barak Bachar following the draw in Sweden.

“We tried to neutralize Norrkoping throughout the game. At home will need to play our game in front of our fans and we have to continue to do what we did in this game, which was to give 100% effort.”

Feyenoord will most probably be waiting for the Southern Reds should they get by Norrkoping as the Dutch squad defeated Dinamo Tblisi 4-0 in their first-leg clash.

Also, Bnei Yehuda has a real chance to get past Neftchi on Thursday at Hamosha Stadium after drawing 2-2 in Baku last week.
Yossi Abuksis’s squad scored the first two markers of the first leg, but a Neftchi goal right before the break and a second deep into second-half injury evened things up heading back to Israel.

Despite giving up a late goal, Abuksis was content with the result.

“I’m proud of the squad. We finished the first half and now we have to prepare for the second half at the Moshava Stadium, but I am not going to talk about favorites going into this match. We will go into the match and give it our all to advance to the next stage.”

If Bnei Yehuda completes its mission, Malmo will be the expected opponent after the Swedish side dropped Zrinjski 3-0 in their first leg.

In other Israeli soccer news, the Toto Cup semifinals are set after the final round of group play games were completed earlier this week.

Maccabi Tel Aviv, which captured the Champions Cup, will face Ironi Kiryat Shmona in one of the semis after the northern squad won its final group game 3-1 over Hapoel Kfar Saba thanks to a Cillian Sheridan hat-trick. The former Celtic and Republic of Ireland marksman has impressed so far in the competition as he will now look to help K8 dethrone cup holder Mac TA.

In the other semifinal tilt, Beitar Jerusalem, which finished atop its group, will play Hapoel Beersheba, which won the European Toto Cup match. Classification games for places 5-8 will feature Ashdod SC, which went undefeated in group play, kicking off against Bnei Yehuda, while Maccabi Netanya will host Maccabi Haifa.

Other contests include Hapoel Hadera taking on Ness Ziona and Hapoel Haifa vs Hapoel Ra’anana, while Hapoel Kfar Saba and Hapoel Tel Aviv, the two winless sides in the preseason tournament, will battle it in the final classification clash.

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