While soccer enthusiasts were enjoying the Spanish celebrations at Euro 2012, Israeli champion Kiryat Shmona were already busy in preparation for their first attempt to reach the Champions League group stage. Ran Ben Shimon, the coach who wrote Kiryat Shmona's name in the history books, is long gone, and his replacement, Gili Landau, had his charges running around in the Caesarea humidity and heat. Landau quietly slipped into Ben Shimon's shoes, and tonight will try to negotiate the team through the first leg of the Champions League playoff.
Owner Izzy Sheratzky promised to keep almost all the squad that won Israelis' hearts last season. "Whoever I wanted, stayed," he says. "If I really wanted Ben Shimon to stay, he would be here too."
As the London Olympics progressed, so did Kiryat Shmona in the early stages of the Champions League qualifying stages, and the team finds itself only 180 minutes away from the group stages. Tonight in Minsk, Sheratzky hopes to see the club achieve results that would make next week's encounter easier.
"The Champions League is a dream," he admits. "I believe we'll succeed. The chances are even, so it's really possible. All my life I've allowed my dreams to lead me, and with hard work, humility and perseverance I've made my dreams come true. Ten years ago I said we would play in Europe, and here we are. Last year I predicted we would finish the league in the top three, and we won the title. Now I believe we'll get past Borisov."
"As usual before such games, we're in a good mood," BATE Borisov's coach Viktor Goncharenko said yesterday at a press conference. "We have an immense will to win, and apart from one player, all my squad is available."
"In general," Goncharenko continued, "Kiryat Shmona is a team that loves to work with the ball, every part of the team has its leader, but they will be missing two central players, which will undoubtedly make things harder for the Israeli coach. Still, the chances are 50-50. Obviously, we'll try not to concede a goal at home, even if our home in this game is Minsk and not Borisov."
Goncharenko sees a similarity between the two clubs: "We, too, like Ironi, love to control the ball. We'll try to find an opening and keep the ball." Goncharenko revealed that Borisov's coaches have already discussed the humidity expected in the return leg next week. BATE will reconsider former Arsenal star Alexander Hleb's contract extension only after the two games with Kiryat Shmona.