Hibernians face an uphill task as they take on Israeli champions Maccabi Tel Aviv in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League second qualifying round at the Hibernians Stadium on Tuesday, kick-off at 20:00.
The Paolites had a brilliant BOV Premier League campaign and won the championship after an excellent run of thirty matches without defeats, losing just one game throughout the whole league campaign.
This summer, they made just slight changes to the squad with three players joining the club and another three leaving.
Goalkeeper Henry Bonello was not retained while foreigners Luis Andre de Melo Lima and Marko Rajic who joined the club in the January transfer window were released.
On the other hand, so far, the club signed three new players, namely Brazilians Gilmar da Silva Ribeiro and Jorge Santos Silva from Naxxar Lions and goalkeeper Matthew Towns from San Gwann. Towns, who had earlier spells with Floriana, Valletta and St. Andrews, will be taking the role of goalkeepers’ coach supporting the club’s new number one goalkeeper – Malta Under-21 international Jurgen Borg. Gilmar joins Hibs on a one-year loan while Jorge Santos moved in a definite transfer.
Addressing the media on Monday, Hibernians coach Branko Nisevic said he was well aware that the clash with Maccabi Tel Aviv will be a very tough game. However he said that in such competitions, local players are used to playing against higher-rated opponents and in his opinion, it is such opposition that helps them improve.
“Playing against higher-rated opponents makes players better players and coaches better coaches. Maccabi Tel-Aviv are the most successful team in Israel but nevertheless better the opponent, the better we do,” said Nisevic.
The Hibs coach said Maccabi Tel-Aviv play the Spanish style of football mainly due to the Spanish coaches they had in the past years and their current Sports Director Jordi Cruyff. He said they boast several former players of Premier League, La Liga and Ligue 1 clubs.
“This will be a big challenge for our players but I am sure they will take the challenge. We enter the game with the idea of getting a positive result – we are not saying we want to win or get a draw … all options are open. We try to make the most out of it.”
Branko Nisevic said the squad has been preparing for this game for the past month. National team players needed extra days to recover and the team had difficulties trying to find opponents for friendly matches and therefore played just one game against Balzan. He said that Gilmar joined the squad two weeks ago but Jorge Santos just four days ago and therefore is unlikely to make it for Tuesday’s game. Jean Paul Farrugia is the only injured player and is therefore definitely ruled out of the game.
Nisevic said that the club is still trying to find a proper substitute for Edison Luis dos Santos who left the club in mid-March to join Seoul E-Land in South Korea but in the mean time, strengthened the squad with the signing of the two Brazilian players.
Meanwhile captain Andrew Cohen said that unlike recent years, Maltese clubs in the UEFA Champions League are now being admitted to the second qualifying round and therefore the local representatives have to face a higher ranked side immediately.
Cohen, who is close to concluding discussions over a new contract with Hibernians, admitted Maccabi Tel-Aviv are a very strong side but is confident that if the Hibs players are tactically disciplined, they could obtain a good result.
Maccabi Tel-Aviv won the championship after finishing their Championship Pool commitments in the Ligat ha’Al on top with 70 points, six ahead of runners-up Ironi Kiryat Shmona. They went on to win the double after defeating Hapoel Be’er Sheva 6-2 in the State Cup and also won the Toto Cup Ligat Al, beating Maccabi Haifa 2-1.
Founded in 1906 as the HaRishon Le Zion-Yafo Association, Maccabi Tel Aviv are the oldest, largest and most decorated football club in Israel. With the establishment of the city of Tel Aviv in 1909, the club changed their name to Maccabi Tel Aviv.
They have won more titles than any other Israeli club, winning 20 League Championships, 22 State Cups, two Asian Champion Club Tournament (now AFC Champions League) and three Toto Cups.
Maccabi Tel Aviv are the only Israeli football team that have never been relegated and one of three Israeli teams ever to make it to the UEFA Champions League group stage.
Their first participation in a European competition was in season 1992/93 when they were paired with Valletta, defeating them 1-0 at home and 2-1 at Ta’ Qali for a 3-1 aggregate score. Maccabi Tel-Aviv managed to reach the group stage of the UEFA Champions League in 2004/05 and the group stage of the UEFA Europa League in 2011/12 and 2013/14.
Last season, they eliminated FC Santa Coloma of Andorra with a 3-0 aggregate scored in the second qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League but then lost 3-2 on aggregate to NK Maribor of Slovenia. They moved to the UEFA Europa League where they were eliminated by Asteras Tripolis of Greece with the away goals rule after losing 2-0 in Greece and winning 3-1 at home.