Euro Soccer: Hapoel needs a win tonight to keep pace in Europa League

Euro Soccer Hapoel need

Hapoel Tel Aviv can go top of Europa League's Group C on Thursday with a victory over Rapid Vienna at Bloomfield Stadium. Hapoel is currently third in the standings with three points from its first two games, after claiming a home win over Celtic in its group opener but losing 4-2 in Hamburg two weeks ago. The Israelis will need to claim all three points against the Austrians on Thursday to maintain a good chance of finishing in the top two and advancing to the round of 32. Hamburg and Celtic were initially considered to be the favorites to progress from Group C, but it is Vienna which is in first position after two matches, defeating the Germans 3-0 before drawing 1-1 in Glasgow. "We are facing the surprise team in the group," Hapoel coach Eli Gutman said. "This is a very important game against a very disciplined and tactical team. Rapid knocked out Aston Villa and beat Hamburg 3-0. They have conceded only one goal so far and know how to defend and strike on the counter-attack." Gutman's only selection headache is in the center of defense, with Walid Badier suspended after being sent off in his team's 4-2 loss in Hamburg. The coach is considering on starting with midfielder Avihai Yadin in place of Badier. "I will try Avihai in defense because I watched Rapid play on Sunday and saw that its forwards are very quick and need to be watched closely. Sometimes you need to make creative decisions like playing Avihai in defense. I will make the final decision on Thursday." Both Hapoel and Rapid recorded disappointing results in local league play over the weekend. Tel Aviv drew 2-2 at home against Ashdod SC, while Vienna lost 1-0 to Sturm Graz. "Hamburg and Celtic were the favorites when the draw was made and they still are," Vienna coach Peter Pacult said. "However, the early results in the group have been surprising. Hapoel plays very aggressively, but that does not scare us. We are focusing on what we need to do. If we manage to take an early lead it will be difficult for Hapoel to come back." Rapid goalkeeper Helge Payer is optimistic of his team's chances. "We are confident, but are not underestimating Hapoel," he said. "This group is very tight. All the teams are at a similar level and it is important for us to take three points from this game." With Yadin likely to start in defense, Bibras Natcho will have more responsibility in the center of the field.