Hapoel Tel Aviv's unprecedented success at home in the UEFA Cup this season is one of its strongest plus points as it takes on Parma AC in tonight's fourth round first leg clash.
Hapoel has made its home at Bloomfield its impregnable castle as it has fought off wave after wave of invaders who came, and saw, and were conquered.
In previous rounds Ararat Yerevan of Armenia, Gaziantepspor of Turkey, English giants Chelsea and Lokomotiv Moscow failed to take anything home with them. Tonight (kickoff 6.30 P.M. live on Channel 10 and 5+) it will be the turn of the Italian powerhouse club.
Hapoel will also be boosted by the fact that as on previous occasions recently when foreign stars have declined an opportunity to visit a world trouble spot, so this time Parma will be without seven influential first-choice players who have all shied off claiming to be injured.
The Italians, who arrived last night and were escorted under tight security to their hotel, will play with a radically changed lineup from the one that usually faces up to Serie A opponents back home.
While Hapoel has a very strong home record, having conceded only a solitary goal in this year's campaign during the 2-1 victory over Lokomotiv Moscow, Parma seems to excel in away games and has on several occasions overturned bad results at home in its favor when the club's back was to the wall.
The absence of captain Fabio Canavaro, considered one of the world's top defensive players, has forced coach Gadona Carminiani and supremo Arrigo Sacchi to field a totally different lineup. Parma's good away record could be under serious threat with the radical changes that the players have had to make and because of their security concerns they will hold today's final training session inside their hotel.
Carminiani told reporters last night that this is not unusual for them, indeed, for their recent Italian Cup game against Brescia they did not train at all. He paid the usual lip service to his opponents. "The game against such a tough opponent as Hapoel is a real challenge for us, I have warned my players that taking their opponents too lightly could be a bad mistake on their part."
Some 430 police and security officers will be on hand around the stadium this afternoon for the early 6.30 P.M. kickoff. The gates will open three hours beforehand and all spectators will be subject to stringent checks. All the streets in the immediate vicinity of the stadium will also be closed off for the game.
Before their arrival yesterday, Parma defender Antonio Benarrivo slammed the decision to play in Israel.
"We are only human but in this world money is all that matters," said the former Italy defender, quoted on Italian news agency ANSA. "The economic interests prevail and we're the puppets put there to make a show. Money comes before men but we should stop a moment and reflect. UEFA are sitting at their desks and have done nothing to move the game."
Colleague Marco Di Vaio said players who did not want to make the journey should be allowed to stay at home.
"When we knew we had to go to Israel, we were a bit worried, but no one even thought of not participating," said striker Di Vaio on Parma's official web site. "But I think that if someone was scared, they should be allowed not to come."
Di Vaio, who will be on the bench at kickoff today, was trying to approach the occasion simply as sport, not politics.
"For us it's only a game of football. I hope that everyone else sees it like I do - that's the spirit we're going there with," he added. "They've assured us that it's going to be a game like all the others. It may not have the same atmosphere, but we will go there to play football."
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