Hapoel Kiryat Shmona FC's prospects of a historic first UEFA Champions League qualification may be slim but for coach Gili Landau there remains more than a glimmer of hope
The Israeli title holders lost 2-0 at FC BATE Borisov in the first leg of their play-off tie and will play Tuesday's return 180 kilometres away from home at the Itztadion Ramat Gan. Landau sounded undeterred, however, as he preached a positive message on the eve of the biggest match in his club's brief European history.
"We can take one of two approaches to this game," he said. "The first is to think we've done what we could do and that anything else is a bonus. The second is not to settle for what we have done and go further. We will take the second approach. Home games are never like away games."
Landau is still without the injured pair of David Solari and Bryan Gerzicich, who also missed the first leg in Minsk, yet the coach preferred not to focus on absences. "I saw the head coach of Manchester City, Roberto Mancini, say yesterday that he had players missing and it's harder that way. I do not believe in that – you need to play with what you've got, and win," said Landau, who is likely to select two from Shimon Abihazira, Barak Badash and László Lencse to lead his attack.
Kiryat Shmona warmed up for Tuesday's match with a 3-2 home victory over Beitar Jerusalem FC in their opening fixture of the new Israeli Premier League season, Salah Hasarma hitting an injury-time winner after Landau's men had let a two-goal lead slip.
They have been less careless in their home qualifying games to date, winning 2-0 against MŠK Žilina in the second qualifying round and 4-0 against Neftçi PFK in the third – both at the Itztadion Kiryat Eliezer in Haifa. Belarusian champions BATE, however, pose a tougher challenge as goalkeeper Daniel Amos admitted: "We played a team that is very strong and we are not used to it."
BATE have kept clean sheets on their two away assignments to date in UEFA Champions League qualification – including the 2-0 success at Debreceni VSC in the last round. And although they are deprived of midfielder Dmitri Baga, who was injured in that tie, their superior European know-how leaves the odds stacked in their favour as they pursue a third group-stage appearance.
That said, coach Viktor Goncharenko and his players are taking nothing for granted. "It's still 50-50," said midfielder Renan Bressan, while Goncharenko insisted: "Kiryat Shmona are not here by chance, they're a great team." Landau hopes the hosts can live up to that billing.
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