UEFA Champions League play-offs: Hapoel visit Slovenia in search of history

UEFA Champions League play-offs: Hapoel visit Slovenia in search of history

It’s the final round of matches for the last ten spots up for grabs in the group stage of Europe’s elite club competition, the UEFA Champions League.

Tonight, there are five games with five teams expected to book a place in group stage as we get ready for the second-leg ties.

So, which teams are involved tonight? We kickoff with the game featuring two Nigerians, Maribor vs Hapoel Be’er Sheva.

Maribor (1-2) Hapoel:

If you are a Nigerian, then, this match will be of particular interest as two Nigerians, John Ogu, and Anthony Nwakaeme, who scored a stunning equalizer in the first-leg, are going to be involved for the away side.

Maribor trail 1-2 on aggregate, but will be going into this game buoyed by the away goal they scored in Israel.

They did score first in that encounter, before Hapoel scored two times to take a slim advantage heading into the game at the Stadion Ljudskivrt.

On their own part, Hapoel are bidding to become just the fourth team from Israel to make it beyond this stage of the competition.

So, who won’t be available for either teams tonight?

Team News:

Maribor will be missing just one player in Luka Zahoni, who is out injured, after picking up a foot injury at the weekend.

While for their visitors, Hapoel and manager, Barak Bakhar, there are no injury or suspension concerns.

Analysis:

These two teams go into this crucial match having an identical form, each having won three of the last five matches, drawing one and losing the other.

Maribor will fancy their chances against Hapoel though, being the home side team and with an away goal in the kitty, plus the fact they hardly lose at home, they’d be in confident mood.

Hapoel will be hoping to continue their scoring form, which has seen them score at least two times in  six of their last seven European games.

Predicted XI:

Maribor XI [4-2-3-1]: Handanovic; Milec; Rajcevic; Suler; Kabha; Vrhoree; Hotic; Ahmedi; Bohar; Tavares.

Hapoel Be’er Sheva XI [4-3-3]: Halmor; Bitton; Taha; Tzedek; Ogu; Raid; Elinbinder; Melikson; Nwakaeme; Ghadir

Key Man( Maribor): Scorer of their away goal in Israel, Marcos Tavares, is expected to also repeat the feat in front of his home fans.

Hapoel’s key man: Anthony Nwakaeme: His excellent goal in the first-leg aside, this 28-year-old Nigerian has been sensational for Hapoel, having scored four goals in five CL appearances for his side this season.

So, he will be called upon again to produce the goods for his history chasing side.

Match Facts:

This is the second time these two will be meeting, with Hapoel having won the first encounter, the first-leg tie played last week.

Hapoel are bidding to be the fourth team from Israel to make it to the group stage of the CL.

Maribor are unbeaten in six of their European home games.

Hapoel have scored at least two goals in six of their seven matches in Europe.

Prediction:

This game looks quite evenly poised, though Maribor could be seen as having a slight advantage given that they scored an away goal.

Hapoel do have a goal or two in them, having managed at least two in six of the last seven.

Nevertheless, I’d have to go with Hapoel going through, but with both sides playing a draw tonight.

Elsewhere in the CL second-leg playoffs, Celtic have the easiest of ties having thrashed their hosts Astana 5-0 in the first leg to establish a comfortable 0-5 aggregate score line, the biggest win for any home side in a CL playoff match.

Astana will have to do the unthinkable to turn this one around. Football is unpredictable, but we can all predict this one.

In France, OGC Nice welcome Napoli, who lead 0-2 on aggregate.

With Vincent Koziello and Alessane Plea suspended due to the red cards they received in the first leg in Italy, Lucien Favre will be hoping that Mario Balotelli and new arrival, Wesley Sneijder would be available to play some part as they attempt to make history by getting to the group stage for the first time in their history.

Greek side, Olympiacos travel to Croatia to tackle Rijeka, and do so with a slim 2-1 aggregate lead, thanks to a decisive last minute goal by Alaixya Romao in Greece.

Finally, in Spain, Sevilla hosts Istanbul Basaksehir, almost certain of a place in the group stage of the CL, following their 1-2 first-leg win in Turkey.

So, which of these games are you most looking forward to? Let us know by dropping your comment (s) in the comments section below.

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