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Barda out to stop Maccabi

    Maccabi Haifa will have to keep out Israel striker Elyaniv Barda if they are to cement their place in the group stages of this season's Champions League.

    Haifa will host Belgian champions Genk next Wednesday in the playoff round as the Greens seek to reach the lucrative group stage for the third time in their history.

    The Israeli champions have signed nine players during the summer including holding midfielder Tamir Cohen, who joined on a free transfer from Bolton earlier this week.

    Elisha Levi, the Haifa manager, said: "Genk are a strong side but we have put together a very strong squad and I believe we can go through.

    "With the crowd behind us in Israel, we must take a lead to Belgium and I believe we will complete the job there."

    The match has been switched to Ramat Gan national stadium so that Haifa can maximise gate receipts against the Belgians, who include Barda.

    Barda said: "I was really annoyed when I heard the draw. This is the worst possible draw for both teams because I think both of us are good enough to reach the group stage."

    With a more expensive squad, Genk will start as favourites, even though Haifa were seeded in the strong half of the draw.

    However, the Belgians lack European experience and have been rocked by the departure of manager Frank Verlauteren to UAE champions Al Jazira.

    In the Europa League playoffs, Hapoel Tel Aviv will travel to Lithuania to play Ekranas in the first leg next Thursday after beating Vaduz of Liechtenstein 6-1 on aggregate.

    Maccabi Tel Aviv will face a much sterner test against Greek powerhouse Panathinaikos who beat Zeljeznicar Sarajevo 8-0 on aggregate.

    Bnei Yehuda were unable to hold on to their first leg advantage, going down 3-1 on aggregate against Swedish champions Helsingborgs.

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