Soccer Champions League Hapoel Kiryat Shmona Hopes That Forward Thinking Is the Way to Banish BATE

In order to book its berth and possibly set up clashes against some of the biggest names in European soccer, the Israeli champion will have to overturn a 2-0 deficit from the first left in Belarus last week.

Moshe Harush
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Moshe Harush

Hapoel Kiryat Shmona faces BATE Borisov of Belarus in the Champions League qualifying playoff Tuesday night, with a place in the lucrative group stages of the competition up for grabs. In order to book its berth and possibly set up clashes against some of the biggest names in European soccer, the Israeli champion will have to overturn a 2-0 deficit from the first left in Belarus last week.

When coach Gili Landau arrived at Kiryat Shmona, he immediately recognized the team's Achilles heel. While the defense was always solid, the team's attack was limited. In 37 league games last season, Kiryat Shmona scored a meager 37 goals; just one team in the top half of the table scored fewer.

Landau, a former striker, decided to work personally with the team's forwards - Shimon Abuhatzira, Barak Badash, David Solari and Laszlo Lencse. At the end of every training session, he waits behind to give his forwards a few words of advice and to keep on drumming his main message into their minds: Keep calm in front of goal.

"Gili told the forwards that they have almost complete freedom on the pitch," said assistant coach Barak Bachar yesterday. "The coaching staff will give them all the backing they need. He is teaching them how to move in the penalty area and how to shake off a defender. He spends most of the training sessions with the forwards."

Landau hopes that his extra coaching will pay dividends against Borisov tonight. To overturn the two-goal deficit, he knows his strikers will have to convert a large proportion of the scoring opportunities that come their way.

"We won't start the game with three strikers," Landau said yesterday at a press conference. "We will play patiently, intelligently and we won't be rushed into anything. We believe we can do it. We know that what we've achieved thus far isn't enough and we want to make it into the group stages."

Borisov, for its part, has kept clean sheets on its two away games to date in the Champions League - including the 2-0 success at Debreceni in the last round. And although it will be without midfielder Dmitri Baga, who was injured in that tie, its superior European pedigree would appear to leaves the odds stacked in its favor.

That said, coach Viktor Goncharenko and his players are taking nothing for granted. "It's still 50-50," said midfielder Renan Bressan. Goncharenko insisted: "Kiryat Shmona is not here by chance. They're a great team."

Kiryat Shmona's Adrian Rochet, center, taking the ball in front of Hapoel's Alroey Cohen in March, 2012.Credit: Nir Keidar

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