Haifa Looks to Finish Job With Early Strike

Maccabi Haifa will face Dinamo Minsk on Thursday night, needing one goal to virtually guarantee its advancement to the next round of Europa League play.

Maccabi Haifa will face Dinamo Minsk tonight, needing one goal to virtually guarantee its advancement to the next round of Europa League play. Head coach Elisha Levy said that, in light of the team's 1-0 home victory in the first leg of the home-and-home series, his aim is to score early, forcing Minsk to score three goals in order to advance because of the away goal rule.

To that end, Levy is weighing the option of opening with two strikers, with Tomer Hemed likely to start alongside Vladimer Dvalishvili, who scored the only goal in Thursday's match. Haifa held its one and only practice in the Dinamo Minsk stadium yesterday.

"We don't expect a simple game in Minsk," Haifa midfielder Gustavo Boccoli said this week before the team departed for Belarus. "We know our opponent is in good shape. We hope we'll succeed in maintaining our tradition in Europe. We're capable of advancing to the next stage."

Minsk's performance against Haifa in Israel should help attract over 10,000 spectators at the stadium tonight in Minsk. A heat wave in Israel, which Haifa fans were fleeing, is following them into Belarus. Weather reports predict temperatures will reach 36 degrees Celsius today in Minsk.

In tonight's other Europa League third round qualifier, Maccabi Tel Aviv will host Olympiacos. Tel Aviv will have a much tougher time trying to bounce back from a 2-1 loss Thursday in Greece, but could advance with a 1-0 win on away goals.

Mixed reaction

Hapoel Tel Aviv officials received with mixed feelings UEFA's announcement yesterday that its soccer team would have to host Champions League qualifiers in Ramat Gan. While the team was disappointed not to be able to hold the matches on its home turf at Bloomfield, officials hope to profit more from the bigger national stadium. Officials said yesterday they believe they can fill the 40,000-seat stadium for all its matches.