LEEDS - Hapoel Tel Aviv held its first training session on English soil last night at the ground of amateur team Woodlesford, on the outskirts of Leeds, in temperatures close to freezing.
All of the Hapoel players, apart from Asi Domb, took part in the workout and according to the club's medical team, even he is expected to recover from a slight muscle strain in time for tomorrow night's UEFA Cup clash with Leeds United.
Coach Dror Kashtan is expected to stick to his usual formation - including two strikers - but could opt for a more defensive midfield line-up against one of the most exciting attacking teams in the English Premier League.
Hapoel's influential midfielder Yossi Abuksis hopes that a second round UEFA Cup tie in England will yield the same result as last season, when the Israel team knocked out the stars of Chelsea.
"When we beat Bnei Yehuda," Abuksis said yesterday, "people said we were great. When we drew against Hapoel Kfar Sava, they said we were terrible. Even though several players have left, Hapoel is just as good as last season. Younger players have taken the place of those who have left, and they are doing a great job."
According to Abuksis, a Hapoel win would be a surprise, but is not beyond the realms of possibility. "We need to be disciplined, and to avoid making any mistakes. A single minute of carelessness could cost us dearly. In Europe, the name of the game is concentration. We will not play defensively. If we score, great. But if not, 0-0 is a good result for us."
Walton Silva, Hapoel's quiet Brazilian, does not believe the team's unconvincing league form will have any bearing on its UEFA Cup performances. "Our motivation is sky-high," he said after training yesterday. "We'll work hard and give everything we have. I believe this season, Hapoel can go even further than we did last year - and I want to be a part of that."
Silva was not too perturbed by the freezing conditions, although team mate Sergei Klaschenko believes the home team will find it easier to acclimatize.
Before training yesterday, the Hapoel players heard a tactical lecture from Kashtan, and watched a recording of Leeds' last league game. The local press has not shown too much interest in the game.
The media are occupied instead by yet another disciplinary scandal afflicting the West Yorkshire team (Nick Barmby is accused of racially insulting an opponent), and the expected return of Wayne Bridges to Leeds after a prolonged injury. Bridges was part of the Leeds reserve team that lost 2-1 to Liverpool reserves on Monday night.
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