Maccabi Tel Aviv's head coach Paulo Sousa is hoping that tomorrow his players will be able to take another step toward realising the Champions League dream: "We will strive to be competitive and to challenge Basel"
Israel's reigning champions, Maccabi Tel Aviv, conducted their first practice this evening on Swiss soil at the pitch of local champions, FC Basel. The two teams will meet tomorrow (8 pm Israel time) at Basel's home venue St. Jakob Park for the first of two legs in the third round of the Champions League qualifying games. Attending that training was Israel national coach, Eli Gutman, who came to observe Maccabi head coach Paulo Sousa's players.
Prior to Maccabi's work-out, both teams' coaches held press conferences to discuss the encounter. The Maccabi coach, accompanied by team captain Sheran Yeini, spoke of his team's chances: "We are playing against a team that is ranked much higher than us, but I have full confidence in my players and a great deal of hope we can realise our (Champions League) dream. We aim to close the gap between the teams and I hope that we will be competitive during the two games and make life difficult for Basel".
Sousa already played against Basel last year in the Europe League group stage with his team Videoton, which won 2-1 in Hungary but lost 1-0 in Switzerland: "I know Basel and it isn’t my first time playing against them, but I hope that the result will be different this time. I am also familiar with the team and the players, and (Basel head coach) Murat Yakin knows that it is always hard to play against my teams". Referring to Basel, Sousa said: "It's the same team that made it to the Europe League semi-finals last year and they know what they have to do, not to mention the fact that they have 13 years of experience in Europe and a dominant status as longstanding champions of Switzerland".
Maccabi's coach described what he thinks are the key elements in tomorrow's encounter: "We want to challenge them and, most importantly, to score. That is key in every game and that's the mentality I demand from the players. We had many scoring opportunities against Gyori and we have to take advantage of them. The opponent is indeed different, but we have to score, and start doing so tomorrow".
Maccabi Tel Aviv captain, defender Sheran Yeini, preferred not to comment on Basel's Egyptian players and talked about the preparations for the match: "I think they're regarded as the favourites, but that gives us an advantage because we have nothing to lose. We know who our opponent is and we'll do all we can to make it difficult for them. That's all I can say right now".
Yakin: "Maccabi are the most difficult side we could have drawn"
Prior to Maccabi's press conference, the hosts also faced the media at St. Jakob Park. Basel's head coach, Murat Yakin, spoke about his feelings in the run-up to the match and his impression of Maccabi Tel Aviv: "The draw against Maccabi Tel Aviv was the most difficult we could have got and we shall have to be focused through the full 90 minutes. If we can score a goal in each half and not concede, then we will have fulfilled our objective. But in order to win tomorrow we'll have to dominate possession. I was very impressed with Maccabi's three forwards, whom I saw play against Gyori in Israel, and with their defensive line, especially (midfielder) Gal Alberman".
Regarding FC Basel's Egyptian players, Mohamed Salah and Mohamed El-Nenny, Yakin said: "We did'nt discuss the matter of the Egyptian players and they will play tomorrow. They might also play in Israel because as it stands, I see no reason why not". Yakin is not concerned by the fact that so far only 9,000 tickets have been sold for the match ("It's still summer holiday and we hope that more fans will arrive by tomorrow") and prefers to focus on preparations for the game: "We have played three league games and we did well. We've built up our self- confidence and we are confident in our ability to achieve our goal. But Maccabi have also gained confidence in their wins over Gyori".
FC Basel midfielder Fabian Frei also spoke at the press conference and described his feelings prior to tomorrow's match in particular and regarding the entire season in general: "The Basel squad are more or less the same as last season and we all know each other very well. If we look back on last season and see what we achieved, there's a lot of room for optimism at the start of this season. Clearly, the goal is making it to the Champions League".