Hapoel Tel Aviv 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
The UEFA Cup is finally back from its winter break. Hapoel Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa have not dominated their Premier League opponents of late, but they have a great chance to make amends in their respective fixtures against Glasgow Rangers and CSKA Moscow tonight.
Tel Aviv is still getting accustomed to life without coach Yitzhak Schum, who was fired last week after a brief stint, not before helping the club reach second place in the league and enjoy UEFA Cup success. The highlight of the reds' campaign so far has been the heroic 4-2 triumph over French giant Paris Saint-Germain.
Nir Levin will make his European debut with Tel Aviv tonight after just one week at the helm. Hapoel only managed a 1-1 draw against Maccabi Netanya last weekend. But the incoming coach is optimistic going into the game, with Yossi Abuksis and Elyaniv Barda being declared fit for the game.
"I expect a better performance than against Netanya," Levin said ahead of the Glasgow game. "I'm happy that our key players are back in action. Our home advantage will be optimal if the fans show up for the game. I would like to personally invite the wonderful fans to show up and help us succeed."
"There are no favorites in this game. Rangers are in good form lately, but its hard to rate their form. But this is a big challenge for us, because we're going to play against a very experienced and well trained team. It's a privilege to be involved in European action against such a well-supported side." he said.
"Only a win will leave us with a chance," captain Yossi Abuksis admitted. "It's nice to play in Europe, but we must aim for more. If we fail to win at home, it will be almost impossible to qualify for the next round. We have to produce an extraordinary effort. That's the only way it can be done."
The visitors have enjoyed a run of good form under new coach Walter Smith, who replaced Paul Le Guen last month. The former Scotland national team coach has guided the team back to second place in the Scottish League, which ensures a spot in the Champions League qualification round this summer.
The club produced convincing group stage performances at the start of the UEFA Cup season, including a clinical 2-0 win over Maccabi Haifa at Ibrox Stadium in Glasgow. The Scotts are looking for a positive result against Tel Aviv ahead of the second leg on February 22.
Defending Israel champion Maccabi Haifa will also be in action tonight, against CSKA Moscow, in what seems to be a tough away fixture. The greens snapped a three-game losing streak last weekend after beating Hapoel Petah Tikva by a 2-0 margin and will be hoping to secure another good result tonight.
"Participating in such a game is not enough," Haifa coach Roni Levy said. "We have to produce a good result and make qualification a possibility. CSKA is a strong team with talented players, but Haifa still has a lot to offer. Our league form has not been good all season long, but we have played well in Europe."
The Russians have a rich history in the competition, winning the cup two seasons ago with a superb 3-1 win over Sporting Lisbon in the finals. CSKA also won the Channel One Cup trophy last month. Wagner Love, the team's prolific Brazilian marksman, will be absent from tonight's game due to a nagging injury.