Benfica v Hapeol Tel Aviv PreviewBy: jamesmartin | November 22nd, 2010
Wednesday, 19:45 GMT, Bloomfield Stadium, Tel Aviv.
1. Lyon 9
2. Schalke 7
3. Benfica 6
4. Hapoel 1
First things first I can safely say that my mind is becoming a little boggled trying to figure out all of the possible scenarios which could occur in this most tight of groups. Currently sitting a point behind Schalke, we need a minimum of three points from the remaining two games to progress into the last 16. Ideally we will secure those three points in this fixture, meaning we go into the final game with Schalke with our destiny in our own hands. Indeed, if we beat Hapoel and Lyon beat Schalke a draw against the Germans would be enough. The worst case scenario sees us fail to win and Schalke beat Lyon, making our chances of progression almost impossible. But enough of this hypothesising, let’s just focus on getting the best possible result in Isreal and taking things from there.
Hapoel are the reigning Israeli Champions and are the Middle Eastern nation’s second most successful club after city cousins Maccabi Tel Aviv. Founded in 1927 they have won 13 Israeli titles, but have found European success hard to come by. Indeed, this is the first time the Red Demons have qualified for the group stages and the club’s most successful European adventure came in 2002 when they reached the Uefa Cup quarter finals. The Israeli club’s most recognisable player is probably goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, who represented Nigeria at the 2010 World Cup.
On a political level Hapoel have close links with Israel’s left wing and reject the nationalistic sentiments displayed by several of the countries’ other clubs.
Benfica’s 2-0 victory in September was the first time these two clubs had locked horns and we have faced Israeli opposition only once before, beating Beitar Jerusalem 8-4 over two legs in the 1998/99 Champions League qualifiers. Our away record in European competition is a little mixed at the moment. We have lost on our last three trips away from Portugal (Lyon, Schalke and Liverpool), but have picked up impressive wins at Marseille, Everton and BATE Borisov within the last 12 months.
With no league action last week the players have enjoyed a nice little rest and the squad is virtually at full strength. Most importantly Oscar Cardozo is finally back! Just how fit the Paraguayan is remains to be seen, but his return can only boost our chances. The only noticeable absentee is Airton who is kept out by a minor injury.
We simply have to win this one if we are to have a realistic chance of making the next round, and hopefully that will inspire the players. The Hapoel fans will generate an intimidating atmosphere, but hopefully our quality will shine through with a 2-1 victory.