Confident Krakow lacks new blood

Betar J'lem's Polish opponent has high hopes for Wednesday's Champions League qualifier.

Betar 224.88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Betar 224.88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Wisla Krakow will arrive in Israel on Tuesday full of confidence ahead of Wednesday's Champions League second qualifying round tie with Betar Jerusalem. But, with no new additions to the squad which won the Polish league last season, there is concern amongst the local soccer community that Krakow will be not good enough to become the first Polish team to make it to the Champions League group stage since Widzew Lodz in 1996. "Polish football has improved in recent years, but we still can't get into the Champions League. We have been waiting for 12 years and we are becoming more and more frustrated," Andrzej Klemba, sports reporter at Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. "When the fans look at [the lack of] transfers they are sad. They didn't believe the team would go into Champions League without any new players." He compared the situation to that at Betar, which has added Argentinian midfielder Dario Fernandez, Uruguayan striker Sebastian Abreu and Israeli midfielder Moshe Ohayon, while only losing the services of Gal Alberman to Borussia Dortmand. The closest a Polish club has come to progressing to the group stage of the biggest club competition in world soccer was three years ago when Krakow lost out to Greek team Panathinaikos in extra time of the second leg of its qualifier, giving away the 3-1 lead it gained in the home leg. Klemba claimed that, although Krakow "won the league easily" last season, the current Wisla squad is its "weakest team for three years." He noted that Polish two national team members - midfielder Dariusz Dudka and forward Radoslaw Matusiak - left the club over the summer and have not been replaced. However, the Betar management should not rest on their laurels. Krakow will still bring last season's Polish league top scorer Pawel Brozek to the capital's Teddy Stadium for this week's first leg as well as the knowledge that an away goal could prove crucial. Klemba said the Wisla staff have stayed positive and, while it respects the Betar team built on the back of the money of Arkadi Gaydamak, it expects to beat its Israeli opponent. "The coach [Maciej Skorza] is always saying that although there have been no transfers we still have good team. He says he knows Betar is strong but believes his team is capable of beating them. "The players are also saying they will win and they know they have to score in Jerusalem. I think they will score. They are expecting a hot atmosphere in Jerusalem but the players like this." According to Klemba around 200-300 Krakow fans are expected to make the trip to Jerusalem. And he dismissed claims that the Wisla fans have a reputation for anti-Semitism, saying that he does not expect any trouble either in Israel or at the return leg. In Jerusalem there has been an increase in intensity among the Betar players and coaches with just a few days to go until the big game. A win over Krakow would put Betar just two games away from a place in the Champions League group stage and guarantee a spot in the UEFA Cup. On Friday Betar defeated Maccabi Herzliya 5-0 in a training game at Teddy, with striker Amit Ben-Shushan grabbing a hatrick after a goalless first half. On Monday the team held its last training session at its Bayit Vegan training ground before the game, with the final sessions to be held at Teddy. Center back Shimon Gershon trained on his own in an effort to recover from a minor injury. Striker Barak Itzhaki is still a doubt after suffering an injury last week but completed a limited training session on Monday. Betar chairman Eli Arazi stressed on Monday that all is prepared for the game on Wednesday. "We will welcome Wisla Krakow with the same respect that we welcome all teams to Teddy," Arazi told the Betar Web site. "We have done everything we can to ensure Betar Jerusalem will be the best team it can be." Arazi also sent a message to the fans, requesting that they do not ruin the good reputation they created in UEFA after last year's Champions League qualifier loss to FC Copenhagen, which contrasts with the image of Betar fans in Israel. "We expect our fans to set an exemplary example. Any bad behavior could hurt us. We received much praise from UEFA for the behavior of our fans [last year] and I am sure we will receive more after the game against Krakow," he said.