The return to the sideline of coach Nitzan Shirazi and the absence of five
Atletico Madrid starters, including star striker Falcao, have given Hapoel Tel
Aviv an unexpected boost ahead of its Europa League Group B opener at Bloomfield
Stadium on Thursday night.
Hapoel will still be a clear underdog against
last season’s Europa League champion, but coach Diego Simeone’s decision to
leave Falcao, captain Gabi, Arda Turan, Diego Godin and Filipe Luis in Spain,
means Tel Aviv has been handed a glimmer of hope to record a massive upset at
Shirazi returned to the Hapoel bench for Saturday’s 2-0
Premier League win over Bnei Yehuda for the first time since undergoing serious
head surgery just over two weeks ago and he will be back to full capacity on
“Hapoel is always optimistic ahead of its European matches and
that has nothing to do with Simeone’s decision to rotate his squad for this
match,” said Shirazi in his first press conference since his health
“I’d rather Falcao didn’t play, but they have so many good players
and we need to respect all of them. However, we should not fear
Viktoria Plzen of the Czech Republic hosts Adademica de Coimbra of
Portugal in Group B’s other match on Thursday and Shirazi admitted that Hapoel
has got its sights set on a second-place finish and progress to the round of
“We were in the second seeding pot in the draw and we want to advance
past this stage,” Shirazi said.
“The squad we built is good enough to
compete for a place in the next stage and I hope the match against Atletico will
be a memorable one for all the good reasons.”
Shirazi, whose team has won
all three of its Premier League matches to date, refused to go into details
regarding his health situation.
“My personal situation is very complex
and this isn’t the time or the place to talk about it,” he said.
want to thank everyone for all the support I was given. I’m very happy to be
back to my old routine. This is beyond my wildest
Atletico has picked up seven of a possible nine points from its
first three La Liga matches, scoring four goals in each of its last three
encounters in all competitions, including a 4-1 victory over Chelsea in the
European Super Cup.
“I know all about Hapoel and I think they will give
us a good fight,” said Simeone, who will be hoping his team can claim its 14th
straight victory in European competition.
“We have a big squad and I want
to give different players some minutes so I’ll know that when I really need them
they will be ready.
“Regardless of who plays our target is to win this
match. We are not here to put on a show, we are here to win.”
Thursday, Ironi Kiryat Shmona opens its account in Europa League Group I with a
visit to Athletic Bilbao.
Bilbao lost to Atletico Madrid in the Europa
League final last season, but has struggled in La Liga so far in 2012/13,
winning just one of its first four matches, conceding a total of 12
However, Marcelo Bielsa’s side will still be an overwhelming
favorite against Gili Landau’s Kiryat Shmona, which is playing in its first
continental group match after suffering a 1-0 loss to Maccabi Netanya in league
action on Saturday.
“We understand that Bilbao plays at a different level
to us, but we to have also got something to offer,” Landau said.
to know how to make the switch from the league to Europe because every match
presents a different challenge.”