Hap TA hosts Plzen in high-stakes showdown

Reds look to keep hopes of advancing alive with win over Czechs; K8 fading fast.

Hapoel Tel Aviv's Tal Ben-Haim 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Hapoel Tel Aviv's Tal Ben-Haim 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Hapoel Tel Aviv faces its most crucial match of the Europa League group stage when it hosts Viktoria Plzen at Bloomfield Stadium on Thursday night according to coach Yossi Abuksis.
A 92nd-minute equalizer by Omer Damari gave Hapoel a precious point on the road against Academica de Coimbra of Portugal in its last continental match three weeks ago and Abuksis believes that if the Reds have any intention of advancing to the round of 32 they will need to beat the Czechs on Thursday.
“The group was blown wide open thanks to Damari’s goal and we hope to beat Plzen at home because we will have a far tougher mission against them on the road in two weeks,” Abuksis said.
“I don’t think we are the favorites. Plzen is a very strong side and I don’t think either team can be branded as the favorite.”
Hapoel enters the match on the back of a 3-0 victory over Maccabi Haifa which put it within three points of the top of the Premier League standings with a game in hand.
Tel Aviv also visits Betar Jerusalem for its third match in a week on Monday and Abuksis said he plans to make a couple of changes to his lineup to keep the team fresh.
While Hapoel is well placed in both European and local competitions, Ironi Kiryat Shmona is nearing crisis mode ahead of its visit to Sparta Prague in Group I of the Europa League on Thursday night.
Kiryat Shmona has picked up just a single point from its past four league matches, while suffering a heartbreaking 4-3 defeat against Olympique Lyon in Europe three weeks ago after conceding a goal two minutes into stoppage time.
“Despite all the talk of pressure and a crisis we remain strong and united,” said coach Barak Bachar, who replaced Gili Landau the day before the loss to Lyon.
“Prague beat Bilbao at home so we know we are facing a tough match, but we certainly believe we can record a good result.”