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Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC hold a 3-2 lead against FC Salzburg after the away leg of their UEFA Champions League play-off, yet the Israeli side's preparations have been dominated by the state of Etay Shechter's hamstring.
The 23-year-old scored 22 league goals last season and was on target again in last week's opener in Austria, but an injury in Saturday's 1-0 defeat by Hapoel Haifa FC leaves Eli Gutman sweating on the striker's fitness. "We are praying Etay recovers and have every faith in our medical staff," said the Tel-Aviv coach. "He has a 50-50 chance of making it and he has assured me he will do everything he can to be fit. He is a major asset to our team, but we will have to be able to adjust should he fail to recover in time."
Midfielder Yossi Shivhon definitely misses out after his booking last week, although Gal Shish is available again after his own one-match ban and Gutman is confident his team will still have enough to reach the group stage for the first time. "We are proud to be playing in these play-offs, as I said before the first leg, but we're far from settling with this," he said. "Our approach is to start this game as a completely new match regardless of the result in the first leg. We will require 100% discipline and concentration, as well as all our players' personal ability, to be able to succeed."
Salzburg also have selection problems, with defender Franz Schiemer and winger Jakob Jantscher both banned after the first leg, yet the latter is still optimistic his team-mates can turn round the tie in his absence. "None of us are thinking about the Europa League yet," he said. "We will try everything to capitalise on this chance and to achieve something great. I am sure that we still have that chance." Striker Roman Wallner, whose second-half penalty last week gave Salzburg hope, was more bullish, saying: "We believe in ourselves and the possibility for a sensation. We have to stay calm, wait for our chance and seize it."
A year ago, Salzburg went down 3-0 to another Israeli side, Maccabi Haifa FC, having lost the first leg of their play-off tie 2-1 at home, although Huub Stevens does not expect a repeat performance. "If we had no belief in our chances, we would not have flown to Tel Aviv," said the Dutch coach, who welcomes back summer signing David Mendes da Silva and whose team's scheduled weekend fixture against SK Sturm Graz was postponed. "The task is of course very difficult, but it is still very possible. We have a 30% chance and we want to use it."
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