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By Ofer Ronen-Abels in Tel-Aviv
Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC coach Nir Klinger said "football is all about believing" as he prepared his side for their final UEFA Champions League Group C fixture against Juventus FC.
UEFA Cup hope
The Israeli side currently lie in fourth place in the section but are level with AFC Ajax on three points and trail the Dutch team on head-to-head record. Ajax end their campaign at home against FC Bayern München and, should Maccabi better their rivals' result on Wednesday, they will claim third position and a place in the last 32 of the UEFA Cup.
"I'm optimistic that we can achieve the biggest upset and secure third place because football is all about believing," Klinger said. "It's obvious that the five previous matches in this competition gave my players a lot of experience, but on the other hand at this level there is no guarantee it could give us any points. The teams that we face are of the highest quality, but my players are less nervous than they were before."
Klinger has a major doubt over the availability of Liran Strauber, however, after Maccabi's first-choice goalkeeper sustained a freak injury when a glass holding a hot drink exploded in his hands. Strauber has resumed training but is not certain to start against Juventus. "We waited to see Liran in training [on Tuesday] and I will sit with my assistant Alexander Obarov and decide whether he can play," said Klinger.
Although Juventus have already sealed first place in the section having won all five games 1-0, Klinger believes his side can overcome the Italian giants and is clear about the need for concentration. "Obviously the result is the most important thing," the coach said. "But first we have to focus on the game itself and then the result otherwise we will lose on both fronts. I watched Juve's last [Serie A] match and would rather concentrate on trying to stop them as much as possible."
Del Piero return
Forward Eli Biton is also doubtful with illness, while Klinger confirmed that John Pantsil has played his last game for the club after criticising the coach in the wake of Maccabi's 5-1 defeat in Munich on Matchday 5. Juventus, meanwhile, welcomed back influential forward Alessandro Del Piero after three weeks out for Sunday's 2-1 win against S.S. Lazio, although Pavel Nedved missed out against his former club with a bout of flu.
Over 300 Israeli-based Juve fans greeted their heroes upon their arrival and were also present at a training session in which Nedved participated. Alessandro Birindelli, Emerson and Ruben Olivera did not travel due to injury, yet Del Piero knows the Italian champions have the strength to make it six wins in succession. "We approach every match with the mentality that we want to win it," he said. "Even though we respect Maccabi we want to maintain our 100 per cent record."
Visiting coach Fabio Capello feels his side will come up against "tactically organised" opposition who are "dangerous on the break" on what is his fifth visit as a player or coach to Israel since 1962. He added: "Every match is important for Juventus and we'll aim to continue winning. Changes will be made but I don't want to say any more on the subject." He will hope his team do the talking.
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