Hapoel to battle the elements, Kazan

Guman's Reds face the Russian champion today in freezing temperatures.

Hapoel Tel Aviv Coooold 311 Hapoel Web site (photo credit: Courtesy: Hapoel Tel Aviv web site)
Hapoel Tel Aviv Coooold 311 Hapoel Web site
(photo credit: Courtesy: Hapoel Tel Aviv web site)
Just like in the magical 2001/02 season, Hapoel Tel Aviv will have to get the better of the elements as well as its opponent on Thursday if it is to continue its amazing European run.
Hapoel reached the quarterfinals of the UEFA Cup eight years ago, defeating Lokomotiv Moscow 1-0 in freezing weather to secure a 3-1 aggregate victory and a place in the last 16.
Hapoel will have to cope with sub-zero temperatures yet again on Thursday night when it visits Rubin Kazan in the Europa League round of 32 first leg.
UEFA brought Thursday’s encounter forward by four hours due to the icy weather in Russia, but a maximum temperature of -15° C is still expected at the new kick off time in the capital of Tatarstan.
“UEFA has decided the match will go ahead so we will play,” Hapoel coach Eli Gutman said.
“Our game plan does not change because of the weather. Even worse than the weather is the fact that the pitch is muddy and I’m not sure if we will be able to play technical soccer.”
Hapoel was superb in the group stage, finishing first in Group C, which included Hamburg, Celtic and Rapid Vienna, winning four of six matches.
“It is an honor for us to reach this stage,” Gutman said. “We began the competition in the third qualifying round and not many people believed we would reach this round.”
While Tel Aviv has been racking up victories in the Premier League, Kazan has been on vacation and hasn’t played an official match in more than two months.
The Russian league, which has been off for its annual winter break since last November, will only get underway in another three weeks. Kazan played its last continental match at the start of December.
However, even without match practice, Rubin is an extremely tough opponent.
Gurban Berdiyev’s side, which has won the last two Russian championships, recorded a stunning 2-1 victory over Barcelona at Camp Nou and drew three more matches in Group F of the Champions League before eventually missing out on a place in the last 16 after losing 2-0 at Inter Milan in its final group match.
“We are facing a team which won at Camp Nou and that pretty much says it all,” Gutman said.
“Kazan is a trained team and we are giving it a lot of respect.”
Kazan has only managed a draw in its last four European home games, with its last home win in Europe coming in an InterToto Cup tie against Zalaegerszegi TE back in July 2007.
Nevertheless, Berdiyev is confident of his team’s chances.
“We are pleased with our preparations,” Berdiyev said. “Hapoel is a well-organized side and I don’t think the weather will affect it. Hapoel will obviously play tactical soccer, hoping to record a good result ahead of the return leg. I think the odds are even.”
Gutman will be without the injured Dedi Ben-Dayan on Thursday, but willotherwise have a full squad from which to select his starting 11.
ItaiShechter will be the team’s main threat when it ventures forward, withBrazilian Douglas da Silva the key to Hapoel’s defensive play.
“Weare expecting a difficult match,” da Silva said. “We are not used tothis weather and we have to make sure we don’t slip up and makemistakes.”