UEFA Champions League: Levy not underestimating French champ
UEFA Champions League L
By ALLON SINAI
Bordeaux may not attract the same respect within the European soccer fraternity as Bayern Munich or Juventus, but the French champion will pose no less of a threat to Maccabi Haifa when the teams meet on Wednesday night.
In fact, Laurent Blanc's team may well be currently playing the best soccer from the four teams in Group A.
Bordeaux drew 1-1 at Juventus in its Champions League opener two weeks ago and claimed a 1-0 win over previously unbeaten Rennes to go back to the top of the French league over the weekend.
The team which stole the Ligue 1 title from Lyon in May is unbeaten in all competitions this season and has registered five clean sheets in a row in the French league.
Haifa leads its local league as well, winning its four matches to date, including an impressive 2-1 road victory over Hapoel Tel Aviv in its most recent encounter last week.
Coach Elisha Levy has stressed all along that Bordeaux is just as good as Bayern and Juventus, and captain Yaniv Katan even went as far as claiming that the French champion is actually better than either the German or Italian super clubs.
"I think Bordeaux is the strongest team in the group," Katan said on Tuesday.
"Nevertheless, we are aiming to play our soccer. I'm sure Bordeaux will not be taking us lightly."
Haifa has never been defeated by a French club, with its record going back to a victory over Paris Saint-Germain in 1998 which knocked PSG out of the Cup Winners' Cup.
Eight years later Haifa beat Auxerre in the 2006 UEFA Cup group stage.
Katan, who was instrumental in Haifa's progress to the Champions League group stage this season, is hoping his team will remain unbeaten against the French after Wednesday night.
"We did not accept losing to Bayern and we will not accept a defeat against Bordeaux," said Katan, referring to his side's 3-0 home loss to Munich two weeks ago. "We have a strong enough team to spring a surprise."
Four Bordeaux players are doubtful for Wednesday's game. Brazilian striker Jussie has been hit by flu while midfielder Yoan Gouffran has a hip problem.
Midfielder Fernando Menegazzo is complaining of abdominal pains and defender Michael Ciani is nursing a left ankle injury.
France playmaker Yoann Gourcuff, who showed no signs of last week's minor thigh injury against Rennes, is expected to start and will be the key to Bordeaux's offensive play.
"This match is of a major importance," said former Manchester United defender Blanc, whose Bordeaux team is unbeaten at home in league play in nearly two years.
"We'll have to be even stronger than against Rennes because the Champions League is a level above."
Bordeaux skipper Alou Diarra is confident of his team's chances. "We have a stronger team and can better manage our weak periods. We are feeling more and more assured and progressing constantly," he said.
"We face an opponent within our range, and it is down to us to make sure of the result. If we win, we can make a great impact in the competition."
Levy is expected to name an almost identical line-up to that which started against Bayern two weeks ago. The only likely change will be at the center of the field, where John Culma will return from suspension to replace Gustavo Boccoli.
"We all know Bordeaux is a very strong side, but we need to play our style of soccer and create scoring opportunities," Levy said.
"We need to attack without hurting our defensive play. Clearly, this will be a tough match, but we will be aiming to correct our mistakes from the match against Bayern and remain focused until the very end."
AP contributed to this report.
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