Hapoel Tel Aviv is on the brink of history, but one last obstacle still
Last week’s 3-2 road victory at Red Bull Salzburg in the first
leg of the Champions League playoffs brought Hapoel within touching distance of
the group stage of European soccer’s most prestigious
However, with such a big prize waiting, no one in Tel Aviv
is celebrating just yet.
Complacency and euphoria have been warded off,
with Hapoel desperate to clinch an aggregate victory in the return leg at
Bloomfield Stadium on Tuesday night to qualify for the group stage for the first
time in club history.
“We are proud to be taking part in the playoffs,
but as I said before the first leg, we have no intention of settling for this,”
said Hapoel coach Eli Gutman, whose side has already guaranteed itself an
extended continental campaign, with the losers in the playoffs to be given a
place in the Europa League group stage.
“We have put the first leg behind
us and are treating this match independently. We will need 90 minutes of
composure, tactical discipline and individual skill to succeed.”
last Wednesday’s impressive win, Hapoel dropped to a humbling 1-0 defeat at
Hapoel Haifa in its Premier League 2010/11 opener on Saturday. More importantly,
however, it also lost starstriker Itai Shechter to injury.
five changes to the lineup that beat Salzburg, but with his team trailing, he
could not resist the temptation of introducing Shechter from the bench and paid
the price when the striker limped off the pitch.
Initially, there were
concerns Shechter may have torn a muscle in his right leg and would be out for
several weeks. However, it ended up proving to be no more than a strain and he
may be fit for Tuesday’s encounter after going through extensive
“We are all praying he will be fit,” said Gutman, who was
outraged with himself after his decision to play Shechter on Saturday ended up
“He has a 50-50 chance of playing and he told me he would do
whatever he can to take part. He’s a significant player, but we will have to
find a way to overcome his absence if he fails to recover.”
who will certainly be missing from Hapoel’s lineup is midfielder Yossi Shivhon,
who is suspended after picking up a yellow card in the first
Frenchman Romain Rocchi is expected replace him and will team-up in
the midfield with Gili Vermut, Eran Zehavi and Avihai Yadin, who were all superb
Vincent Enyeama will stand between the posts once more, with
the regular back-four of Douglas da Silva, Walid Badier, Omri Kende and Dedi
Ben-Dayan to start as usual.
If Shechter passes a fitness test he will
start up-front with Ben Sahar, who has scored in Hapoel’s last two continental
matches, with Gutman considering a tactical change should the 23- year-old fail
“We are mulling several options should Shechter miss out, but
injuries are part of the game and you have to overcome them,” Gutman
Salzburg will also make at least two changes to last week’s lineup,
with defender Franz Schiemer and midfielder Jakob Jantscher both
However, Red Bull coach Huub Stevens believes his team can
overturn last week’s loss, even though a 1-0 or 2-1 victory would still see
Hapoel advance on away goals.
“If we don’t believe in our chances there
is no point in flying to Tel Aviv,” the Dutch coach said.
believe we have a chance and that is the most important thing. We are facing a
difficult task, but not an impossible one.”
Nevertheless, Tel Aviv
remains a firm favorite to reach the group stage and midfielder Zehavi is
confident the team will complete its progress on Tuesday night.
the club’s most important match in recent years and we are ready for it,” Zehavi
“The group stage has been our goal since the start of the season.
We have all been dreaming of this. We were all excited to hear the Champions
League anthem in Austria last week and we want to hear it many more times in the
In other Israeli soccer news, Hapoel Beersheba claimed a
1-0 victory at Maccabi Petah Tikva in the final match of the of the first
weekend of the Premier League 2010/11 season.
Lior Asulin scored the
winner with a diving header in the last minute of stoppage time.