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Hapoel Tel Aviv coach Eli Gutman said on Tuesday that his team must put its Premier League woes aside and focus fully on the job at hand in the UEFA Cup.
Tel Aviv, which has picked up just six of a possible 39 points in the Premier League and is bottom of the standings, faces Danish side Aalborg BK on Wednesday and could remarkably find itself in the last 32 of the competition for the second straight year with a victory.
"We must treat this match seriously and try to win to give ourselves a chance to advance. I will play my best team," Gutman said at a press conference at Bloomfield Stadium.
If Getafe beat Anderlecht in the other Group G match, Hapoel will advance to the last 32 for a second straight season as long as it gets the better of Aalborg. However, if Getafe and Anderlecht draw, Tel Aviv would need to win by at least five goals and if Anderlecht wins the reds would have to win and also better Getafe's goal difference.
The UEFA Cup has been a pleasant distraction for Hapoel this season. Despite a poor start to its league campaign, the team clinched a group stage berth in October with a surprise away win against AIK Solna.
The team continued to record surprising results as the season progressed and three weeks ago, just four days after Guy Luzon left the club, the coach-less side resurrected its European campaign with a surprising 2-1 win over Getafe in Spain.
Aalborg, which finished last season in third position, is currently leading the Danish league, two points clear of champions FC Copenhagen.
The Danes booked their place in the UEFA Cup via the Intertoto Cup and advanced to the group stage after stunning Italian side Sampdoria in the first round. The team no longer has any chance of progressing after losing to Tottenham and Getafe and drawing with Anderlecht in its first three matches.
"We're playing a team which is in first position in the Danish league and I have no doubt that the game will be extremely difficult," Gutman said. "My players must put aside their league form and relax."
Hapoel will be without Gabriel dos Santos, who injured his knee in training on Tuesday. Aalborg, which is already two weeks into its winter break, will be resting several players against Tel Aviv. Coach Erik Hamren said, however, that he's still looking to claim a win at Bloomfield.
"We always want to win. We have some injuries so it's going to be tough, but we will do anything we can to win," he said. "We've played well so far in Europe, but we haven't managed to win. We didn't take our chances.
"This match will be a good experience for our team, which is playing in European competition for the first time this season."
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