Hapoel Tel Aviv's first ever home game in the Champions League group stage, hosting Lyon tonight in Jaffa, is a moving occasion for coach Eli Guttman.
"The pageantry has come to Bloomfield Stadium," he told Israeli and French reporters during his introductory press conference.
The coach of the Israeli champions told the assembled Israeli and French press contingent that Hapoel's home pitch would provide an energy-filled backdrop for the event. He predicted a full turnout by the club's rabid supporters and he went out of his way to diplomatically compliment his French opponent.
"At the start of the group stage, I said that Lyon is the favorite to emerge in first place from our group," Guttman said. "Remember that last year it reached the Champions League semifinal and its team structure is filled with top-level stars like Yoann Gourcuff, Jeremy Toulalan, and Michel Bastos. There's really nothing to add there."
Hapoel is eager to shake off the bad vibes from its shocking loss to heavy underdogs Hapoel Ironi Kiryat Shmona in the Premier League on Saturday. Guttman is aware that the turmoil engulfing the team is not ideal for its preparations against Champions League-caliber foes.
"We are coming into the match against Lyon at a time where our level of play is not as good as it once was, but I prefer to look at the glass half full," the coach said. "A packed house at Bloomfield will infuse us with some energy that we haven't had recently. In order to get a good result against Lyon, we will have to be at our best, both in terms of individual ability and in terms of team play."
"We had a difficult week," Guttman said. "But we have placed everything on the table." The coach said that his relationship with co-owner Eli Tabib was "good and respectful" but that at times they have clashed over disagreements regarding the team's direction.
Guttman also warned not to read too much into Lyon's loss in its Ligue 1 derby match against Saint-Etienne last week.
"I saw the match," he said. "Lyon was the far better team and it should have won by at least one or two goals. It's a matter of peaks and valleys. Still, on any given day, we can put up a fight against Lyon."
The Hapoel head man said that he will determine the lineup after the team's final practice. His French midfielder, Romain Rocchi, said he knows Lyon well from his playing days at FC Metz.
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