Hap TA hopes to shock Schalke in Germany

Reds still looking for first point in group stage, face risk of falling out of contention early.

Hapoel Tel Aviv funny strtches 311 (photo credit: Martin Meissner/AP)
Hapoel Tel Aviv funny strtches 311
(photo credit: Martin Meissner/AP)
After scoring its first-ever goal in the Champions League group stage, Hapoel Tel Aviv continues its search for a first Israeli point in the competition in nearly six years when it visits Schalke 04 in Gelsenkirchen, Germany on Wednesday night.
Goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama scored for Hapoel from the penalty spot in its last group match, a 3-1 defeat to Olympique Lyon at Bloomfield Stadium three weeks ago.
However, Tel Aviv still finds itself bottom of Group B with nothing to show from two matches and remains desperate to collect an historic point, something an Israeli club hasn’t done since Maccabi Tel Aviv drew 1-1 with Juventus on December 8, 2004.
Maccabi Haifa became the first team in Champions League history to end the group stage without taking a point or scoring a goal last season, a distinction Hapoel has already avoided.
However, coach Eli Gutman knows that picking up a first point will be especially difficult to do in Germany against a struggling team in dire need of a confidence- boosting victory.
“We want to make everyone proud of us,” said Gutman, whose team will be entering the encounter on a high after its 1-0 victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv in the derby on Saturday.
“We want to not only play well, but also return home with at least one point. After two matches in the group stage our players should no longer be nervous and we have no intention of settling for a good performance. We want points. The derby gave us confidence and a good feeling and I hope we can build on that at Schalke. I believe in my team and I’m optimistic.”
Gutman has got one main injury concern, with midfielder Avihai Yadin to go through a late fitness test after injuring his ankle in the derby.
Yadin is expected to play, but injured left-back Dedi Ben-Dayan, who stayed in Israel, will be replaced by Gal Shish.
While Hapoel seemed to have got its Premier League title defense back on track with the victory over Maccabi, Felix Magath’s Schalke is still struggling on the domestic front.
Schalke is one place above the relegation zone, with only five points from eight games after drawing 2-2 at home last weekend with bottom club Stuttgart.
Magath should be able to call on Croatia midfielder Ivan Rakitic, who is fit again after a concussion, with midfielder Jermaine Jones and winger Jefferson Farfan back form suspensions.
Rakitic takes heart from Schalke’s 2-0 win against Benfica three weeks ago.
“We would like to pick up the next win in the group phase and, as far as possible, build on the performance from the match against Benfica,” he said. “In my opinion, we played our best game of the season so far against the Portuguese.”
Magath needs to sort out his defense because things are looking good for Netherlands striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who has scored in eight consecutive games for club and country. Strike partner Raul Gonzalez, however, has only one goal in 11 games since joining from Real Madrid and badly needs a goal against Hapoel.
“I’m going through an excellent period,” said Huntelaar, who has scored 14 goals in 12 games in all competitions this season. “I’ve never experienced anything like this before and I hope it continues.
“Hapoel is a good team, but it will make mistakes and we have to make the most of them to win the match.”
Magath is expecting a tough time against Tel Aviv.
“Hapoel is determined to win and it has players who know how to score so we must be careful,” he said. “We saw how good a team Hapoel is in its match against Salzburg, but we will try and win this game. This will be a difficult match and Hapoel will be looking to make the most of its last chance.”
If Hapoel is to leave Gelsenkirchen with a result, it seems all but certain that the crucial goal will be scored by midfielder Eran Zehavi.
The 23-year-old burst onto the scene last season and has since scored the stoppage time goal that clinched last season’s championship, the goal that ensured Hapoel’s progress to the group stage for the first time in club history and Saturday’s winner in the derby.
“All that I’m missing is a winning goal in the Champions League,” Zehavi jokingly said. “We are facing a very tough opponent, but we want to finally pick up our first point.”
In Group B’s other match, Lyon hosts Benfica.