GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany - It was just two months ago that Hapoel Tel Aviv could fantasize about its Champions League draws with the likes of Benfica, Schalke and Lyon. They could even dream about a sensational advance to the next stage, or at least being treated to a series of riveting matches against the major clubs of Europe.
Last night, Schalke's Raul treated Hapoel players to an old-fashioned clinic on how soccer is played in the big leagues, staking the German hosts to a 1-0 lead by the third minute and propelling his team to a 3-1 defeat of Tel Aviv.
Hapoel has now been soundly beat by all three of its Champions League opponents.
On the eve of the match, Hapoel coach Eli Guttman warned of midfielder Jose Manuel Jurado, and correctly so. The Spaniard ran the game behind two strikers, controlled the pace and found Raul twice and Jan Huntelaar for the third goal to finally bury Hapoel and its hopes once and for all.
However, Guttman got it wrong when he predicted that the game would be decided by the little things.
Hapoel Tel Aviv wasn't crushed by uncharacteristic mistakes but by a failure to perform the basic elements of the game. It took less than three minutes for Jurado to fire an elegant shot to Huntelaar, who faked out the center of Hapoel's static and insecure defense to send the ball to Raul unguarded in front of goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama.
Schalke, which came to the game demoralized by recent league struggles, not only earned the go-ahead goal but also the confidence that it could win the match with ease.
Hapoel played a poor match without any real back midfielder, without a sense of commitment on the forward line and without talented defenders.
Shay Abutbul and Avihai Yadin could not stop Schalke's relatively sluggish midfield, and no pressure was put on Schalke players leading with the ball.
Hapoel players who lost the ball didn't try to get it back and sometimes three Hapoel players could be seen looking on at Schalke's attack.
Hapoel also didn't show much spark on offense. Itay Shechter, who scored a goal at the end of injury time off a free kick, Toto Tamuz and Gil Vermouth all showed flashes of brilliance and were technically impressive, but ultimately didn't create a nuisance for the Schalke goalkeeper.
Man U downs Turks
In Group C action, Manchester United put the furor surrounding Wayne Rooney's future to the side for 90 minutes Wednesday to beat Turkish side Bursaspor 1-0. Portugal winger Nani put United ahead in the ninth minute at Old Trafford with a curling shot to the far post. United is unbeaten and in a strong position to qualify for the next round, when it could be without Rooney after the England striker publicly stated his desire to leave the club.
In Milan, Inter Milan scored four goals in the first half and then withstood a hat trick from Gareth Bale to secure a 4-3 win over Tottenham to take control of Group A. Samuel Eto'o scored twice for the defending champion, which was up 3-0 and had a man advantage after just 14 minutes.
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