The spa town of Teplice, with a population of 50,000 some 80 kilometers from the Czeck capital, Prague, and FK Teplice would seem to be an easy path for Hapoel Tel Aviv into the group stage of the Europa League. But even though the Czech Cup winner from last season is a modest team in terms of budget (just 3 million euros), it has a record of attractive and stable soccer, including impressive victories over such powerhouses as Feyenoord and Kaiserslautern in the past decade.

It is thanks to the sponsorship of a major glass manufacturer that Teplice is able to hold its in the highly competitive Czech league. This season, victory in the Czech Cup gave Teplice a ticket to European competition, but twice in the past few years the team has been close to making the group stage of the Champions League.

According to Peter Bilak, a local sports journalist, Teplice is a well-organized team with a solid defense, which bases its play on the counterattack. But the offensive side of the team's play has been slightly under performing in recent months.

Teplice's manager, Jiri Plisek, will be celebrating his 37th birthday the day after the home leg of the match against Hapoel. Plisek is full of praise - if not for Hapoel Tel Aviv, then at least for Israeli soccer in general. "Israeli soccer is of a very high quality," he says. "You can see that every year in European competition; the level of Israeli soccer is always rising. Hapoel Tel Aviv may not play the same sort of attractive soccer as teams like Galatasaray of Villarreal, but you just look at its European results and know that they won't be a pushover. I was in Israel once as a scout for Sparta Prague, so I know that people there love soccer and want to see their teams progressing all the time."

Bilak insists that Plisek will continue to rely on a stable defense and fast counterattacks, no matter whether his team is playing in Israel or at home. Teplice can only overcome a more technical and skilled European opponent if it plays like that," he added. (Eli Shvidler)