Hap TA must grasp present opportunity to rewrite history

Everything is in place for Hapoel to rediscover last season’s form and put its poor start to the current campaign behind it.

After watching Hapoel Tel Aviv’s 2-0 setback in its Champions League group stage debut at Benfica two weeks ago, I was reminded of one of the unforgettable lines uttered by baseball legend Yogi Berra.
As much as I tried to will myself to believe “It ain’t over ’til it’s over,” the particular quote that came to mind was rather “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”
For Hapoel’s defeat in Portugal seemed to be a direct continuation of Maccabi Haifa’s Champions League campaign last season, which ended embarrassingly with the Greens becoming the first team in the 18-year history of the prestigious competition to finish the group stage with no points or goals.
Tel Aviv had its moments in Lisbon, and had refereeing decisions gone its way, it perhaps might have even been able to return home with an historic Champions League point.
However, the exact same things were written about Haifa after almost all of its group games last season before it set a record for futility.
“Haifa impressed for large periods of its continental campaign and was unlucky not to have anything to show for its efforts,”was the overwhelming sentiment in both the local media and elsewhere.
Yes, Elisha Levy’s men did show that they could compete at the highest level in their matches against Bayern Munich, Juventus and Bordeaux, but by losing each and every one of their encounters, while also failing to score a single goal, they also proved that they were simply not good enough to get the better of Europe’s best.
Hapoel has only played one group match so far, but the similarities to Haifa’s performances from last season were both disappointing and worrisome.
With that said, Tel Aviv can turn the frowns upside down on Wednesday night when it hosts Olympique Lyon in its first home match in the competition at Bloomfield Stadium.
Hapoel enters the encounter in the midst of its worst crisis since the team was mired in last place in the Premier League standings three years ago.
Recent off-field distractions include co-owners Moni Harel and Eli Tabib squabbling in the media about the club’s running, Gutman finally signing his new contract some five months after originally agreeing to a one-year extension and midfielders Eran Zehavi and Avihai Yadin boycotting a training session in protest of interminable contract negotiations.
This all would have been of little interest had Hapoel still been rolling to victories in the free-flowing fashion of last season.
However, in addition to its European mini-slump, the side has picked up just four points from its first four league matches, losing 4-2 at home to Ironi Kiryat Shmona this past Saturday.
Nevertheless, even with all that is going at the club, the Reds could not ask for a better time to face Lyon. The seven-time French champion is off to its worst Ligue 1 start in 15 years, having picked up just five points from its first seven fixtures and is currently occupying second-to-last position in the table.
Lyon is still the clear favorite on Wednesday night, but Hapoel will not get a finer opportunity to claim the scalp of a top European team and everyone in Tel Aviv knows it.
Hapoel has lost just once in its last 12 home matches in continental competition over the past three seasons, beating the likes of Hamburg and Celtic last year.
It is costing the club over a million shekels to upgrade Bloomfield to UEFA Champions League standards for each group match, with the management hoping the homefield advantage will translate into success, and the hefty cash injections that come along with it.
Each victory in the group stage is worth a handsome 800,000 euros, with even a single point giving the club a nottoo- shabby 400,000 euros.
Everything is in place for Hapoel to rediscover last season’s form and put its poor start to the current campaign behind it with a famous victory.
After the draw for the group stage was made, Hapoel management and players spoke of becoming the first Israeli team to reach the knockout stages of the Champions League, with co-owner Harel even saying he believed the team could make the quarterfinals.
For the time being Israeli soccer fans expect far less.
A goal and a point against Lyon on Wednesday may eventually prove not to be enough for Hapoel to avoid last position in Group B, but it would help us forget Haifa’s ignominious campaign, and that is all we ask for.