By ALLON SINAIPublished: OCTOBER 1, 2009 07:41Advertisement
Hapoel Tel Aviv will look to cast aside its local troubles and build on its good start to the Europa League group stage when it visits Hamburg on Thursday night.
Hapoel has picked up just five points in its first four Premier League matches and suffered its first defeat of the season last week, losing 2-1 at home to Maccabi Haifa.
Eli Gutman's men have faired far better in continental play, however, advancing to the group stage with an undefeated record by overcoming Sweden's IFK GÃ¶teborg and Czech club FK Teplice. The Reds continued to impress in their group stage opener two weeks ago, defeating Celtic 2-1 at Bloomfield Stadium thanks to Maharan Lala's 88th minute goal.
Thursday's encounter, however, promises to be a completely different proposition.
Hamburg leads the German Bundesliga, defeating Bayern Munich 1-0 on Saturday to stay top of the table.
Bruno Labbadia's men are unbeaten in seven games in the league and the team's 3-0 loss at Rapid Vienna in its group opener is actually bad news for Hapoel, as it means Thursday's encounter is a must-win match for Hamburg, especially as it visits Celtic in its next game.
"Hamburg leads the Bundesliga and we are facing a big challenge, but we will not shy away from it," Hapoel coach Eli Gutman said. "Hamburg will try to score an early goal, but we hope to take the sting out of its attacks. I feel that any soccer team which respects itself should believe that at least 50 percent of the outcome of the match depends on they way it plays."
Hamburg striker Mladen Petric, who scored his team's winner against Bayern, is hoping his side can produce a similar performance against Hapoel.
"Straight after the Bayern game it is important not to let the intensity drop," Petric said on the club's website.
Assistant coach Eddy Sozer echoed the Croatian's words.
"We want to take the passion and aggression with us, because we will need exactly these against Tel Aviv," he said.
Brazilian Ze Roberto, who impressed in the weekend win over his former club, is in doubt for Thursday's match due to a knee injury. Striker Paolo Guerrero, however, is definitely out after undergoing successful surgery in America on a cruciate ligament injury.
Gutman is set to use a relatively cautious lineup in the hope of avoiding defeat at the HSH Nordbank Arena, which will also host the Europa League final in May.
The coach is likely to start with five midfielders and just one striker, with Avihai Yadin and Zurab Menteshashvili to both play as defensive midfielders.
Danny Bonder is expected to replace the offensive-minded Omri Canada at right-back, while Nemanja Vucicevic, who played at Bundesliga clubs FC Koln and 1860 Munich in the past five seasons, will likely attack from the midfield and support lone-forward Samuel Yeboah.
Midfielder Bibras Natcho, who is once more set to have a key role at the center of the field, is optimistic of his team's chances, despite Hamburg's obvious superiority.
"We know Hamburg is the favorite, but we hope to leave with at least a point," Natcho said. "We know all about their players and we will be ready."
In other action on Wednesday, neighbors AS Roma and Lazio are both looking to reverse poor beginnings to their Europa League campaigns on Thursday as the underachieving Italian capital chases a rare European title.
Winner of the defunct Fairs Cup back in 1961, Roma tumbled 2-0 at FC Basel in Group E. Lazio, which won the last Cup Winners Cup in 1999 followed by the lightly-regarded Super Cup, lost 2-1 at home to Salzburg in Group G.
Roma is reviving in Serie A, however, after Claudio Ranieri replaced Luciano Spalletti at the beginning of September and hopes to bounce back from its Europa League defeat with a home victory over CSKA Sofia. Lazio visits another Bulgarian club, Levski Sofia, which also lost its opening game 1-0 away to Villarreal.
Germany has not won European soccer's second tier cup competition since 1977, Werder Bremen losing in last season's final to Shakhtar Donetsk of Ukraine. The Bundesliga has three teams chasing the trophy at this stage.
Bremen began Group L with a 3-2 victory at Portugal's Nacional and hopes to make it two wins in two games by beating Athletic Bilbao at home.
AP contributed to this report
var cont = `Sign up for The Jerusalem Post Premium Plus for just $5
Upgrade your reading experience with an ad-free environment and exclusive content