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Benayoun, Ben Haim, Arveladze and Cruyff: Who are Dundalk's opponents Maccabi Tel Aviv?

Dundalk take on the Israeli side later this evening in the Europa League.

AFTER AN ENCOURAGING draw against AZ Alkmaar in their opening Europa League encounter, League of Ireland champions Dundalk will look to build on their good start when take on Israeli side Maccabi Tel Aviv, later this evening.

Expectations of Stephen Kenny’s side have risen, and the Lilywhites could make more history tonight, knowing a victory in Tallaght will mean they become the first League of Ireland side to win a group stage match in Europe.

Below is a lowdown of tonight’s opponents.

The manager

Soccer - Tennents Scottish Cup - Quarter Final - Celtic v Rangers Source: EMPICS Sport

Maccabi are managed by the former Ajax and Rangers striker Shota Arveladze, where he won three league titles, including two in Scotland.

The former Georgian international known for his quick feet and skill on the ball, enjoyed a prolific career in front of goal for both club and country, and is Georgia’s record goalscorer with 26 goals from 61 caps.

The now 43-year-old cut his teeth in management as an assistant manager at AZ Alkmaar, the team that Dundalk drew with in their first group game, and where he also had a spell as a player.

At the Dutch club, Arveladze worked under some of Europe’s most high-profile managers including Louis van Gaal when they won the league in 2009, as well as Dick Advocaat and current Everton manager Ronald Koeman.

But his five-year spell in Turkey as a first-team manager, where Arveladze managed three different clubs, ended unsuccessfully in November when he resigned from his position as manager of Trabzonspor.

After only five months in charge he offered his resignation following a poor run of form, but was then appointed Maccabi’s head coach in June.

The squad

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Fulham v Chelsea - Craven Cottage Source: Daniel Hambury

Followers of the Premier League will notice that two of the most famous Israeli’s ever to feature in England’s top flight are part of Maccabi’s first-team squad.

Former Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal midfielder Yossi Benayoun, now 36, joined Maccabi Tel Aviv from Maccabi Haifa earlier this summer.

Another familiar name, and expected to be on the team sheet tonight is defender Tal Ben Haim, who played for eight clubs in England, but probably enjoyed his most successful periods at Bolton Wanderers and Portsmouth.

The 34-year-old may be targeted by the Dundalk management team, and could be forced into mistakes if put under pressure by the Lilywhites’ attack.

Soccer - Sky Bet Championship - Bolton Wanderers v Charlton Athletic - Macron Stadium Source: EMPICS Sport

To make things interesting or complicated, whatever way you prefer to look at it, Maccabi also have a striker named Tal Ben Haim, with the differences between the players usually denoted by the numbers one (for the defender) and two (for the attacker).

But in Uefa competitions, the forward is more commonly known as Tal Ben Chaim.

The striker could be the main threat for Stephen Kenny’s side tonight, especially if he maintains his fine form, which includes nine goals in seven appearances so far this term for club and country.

This superb strike (below) against Italy from a World Cup qualifier earlier this month, shows exactly what the 27-year-old is capable of producing:

Source: Channel 87/YouTube

For anybody that watched Ireland’s 2-2 draw in Serbia, you may remember their less-than-convincing goalkeeper Predrag Rajkovic. The 20-year-old, who looked distinctly vulnerable from set-pieces, is set to start between the sticks this evening.

Bosnian international midfielder Haris Medunjanin, who featured for his national side in the Euro 2016 play-off loss to Ireland, highlights the calibre of international-quality player Maccabi can attract.

But it should be noted that football rules in Israel dictate that only five non-Israeli nationals can play for the team at any one time, while a maximum of six can be in the matchday squad, which has restricted the number of non-national players the team can recruit.

History

Mideast Israel Oscar Garcia Source: AP/Press Association Images

Maccabi run several different sporting clubs, including basketball and volleyball, but is the most decorated football team in Israel.

With 21 league titles, Maccabi won the league for three years in-a-row before losing out to Hapoel Beer Sheva last year. Managed then by current Ajax manager Peter Bosz, Maccabi finished two points behind the champions.

Hapoel Beer Sheva went on to be narrowly knocked out by Celtic in the play-off round of the Champions League, but bounced back to stun Inter Milan with a 2-0 victory in the San Siro on the first matchday of the Europa League.

Jordi Cruyff the former Barcelona and Manchester United midfielder, and son of the late legendary Johan, has been the sports director of Maccabi since 2012, and it was under the Dutchman’s guidance that the club secured their first league title in a decade.

After six games of the current campaign Maccabi Tel Aviv sit top of the table, with five wins and one draw. They will enter tonight’s game against Dundalk full of confidence after they thumped their city rivals Hapoel Tel Aviv 5-0 on Sunday, in front of a near capacity crowd of 14,000.

European Pedigree

Maccabi come to Tallaght after travelling over 4,000 km, and no doubt the flight to Ireland ensured plenty of time to mull over their last performance in the Europa League, as Arveladze’s side blew a three-goal lead with less than 15 minutes remaining to lose 4-3 at home to group favourites Zenit.

Source: SPORT HD 1/YouTube

Maccabi could have no excuses about not being match sharp after they progressed through all four of the Europa League qualifying rounds to make the group stages, which included a tense penalty shootout win over Hadjuk Split at the play-off stage.

Last season, Maccabi made it to the group stages of the Champions League for the first time in 11 years, but lost all their matches in a group containing Chelsea, Dynamo Kiev and Porto.

However it must be noted, Maccabi have only qualified for the knockout stage of a European competition once before in their history when they reached the round of 32 of this competition in 2014, before losing to Basel.

Kick-off tonight is at 20:05 live on eir Sport 1 and BT Sport ESPN. 

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