Maccabi Tel Aviv held their final practice ahead of tomorrow night's derby against municipal rivals Hapoel Tel Aviv. Coach Paulo Sousa: "We are fully committed"
In the relative calm of this morning's brisk sunshine, Maccabi Tel Aviv held their final practice ahead of tomorrow night's derby against municipal rivals Hapoel Tel Aviv. Beforehand head coach Paulo Sousa and defender Carlos Garcia held a press conference ahead of this traditionally tense encounter. "I've seen many derby matches come and go since I became a footballer at age 17", Sousa began. "I know how important the derby is, especially for the fans, and of course for the players too, the professional staff, everyone at the club in fact, especially at this club. I've been hearing about it since my first day at Maccabi but a club that wants to be big can't focus only on derby matches. It's an inseparable part of the game, especially for the fans, and we want to win it for them in particular, but it's in the league that you make history, that's what the lads did last Thursday night when they progressed from the (Europa League) group stage with eleven points. Of course we want to make sure we win the derby too, that's to bring joy to everyone involved".
Referring to last year Sousa said: "We mustn't forget that we lost the first derby of the season and we must make sure that doesn't happen again. On top of that our opponent has the advantage in a number of areas and we'll certainly have to cope with that. First of all we'll have to prevent another loss in the first derby of the season like last year. Secondly, the odds of losing the first match after a European fixture are higher so we'll have to focus very carefully on that too. The fact that Hapoel won their last match in the dying moments is a motivating factor for them, and after a poor start to the season it could prove to be a turning point for them. But we are fully committed to being 'Maccabi', to show our opponents the respect they deserve and to stick to the principles of our game. We'll also have to deal with some difficulties we've encountered preparing for the match, but that's part of football and again, we're 'Maccabi' and we'll be out there to ensure that the game and the result will be in our favour".
Sousa continued: "I can see that everyone is highly motivated and from there it's just a question of the character of the players. It puts some of them on a higher energy level, others feel a lot of pressure, but where games like this are concerned, there's enough motivation without me as the coach. Ahead of every match I choose my players according to a number of criteria but the most important one is the principles of our game. On top of that we study our opponents carefully and examine the challenge in light of the character of our players and try to get it spot on where the starting eleven is concerned so we get the result we want. . For instance, at Thursday's match against Bordeaux we had to take into account the condition of the pitch when we chose the players who started".
Sousa was also asked about the custom of having fans burst onto the training pitch before important matches: "It's just something we'll have to cope with, it's something that's become a part of Israeli footballing culture. It's certainly something I'd like to prevent and if they do barge in I'd prefer they should do it either at the end or at the very beginning of the practice. Training sessions are very important to me, that's how we work and prepare ourselves for a match in the best way possible and if the session is interrupted it makes it more difficult for us, the coach and the players, to do just that. But they're accustomed to doing that here and somehow we'll have to deal with it".
The team's Spanish defender Carlos Garcia has already won three derby matches with the club last season, but his attention is focused on the one at hand: "Last year's victories are already history, as much as Bordeaux so far we're concerned, this is the only match we're interested in at the moment, not what happened last season. It's a new league, a new competition and what we accomplished last year isn't going to change anything in tomorrow night's match. If you want to discuss last season, well, that's fine for you, but for us it's just a waste of time, it makes no difference".
The defender also had a few words to say about the opponent: "Hapoel Tel Aviv are a good side, they have good players both in attack and in defence and they're very dangerous. Any one of their players could be a threat in our penalty area and we'll have to be completely focused in order to counter it. If you look at the table, okay, perhaps we look like the favourites, but in a derby that makes no difference, even if they were holding up the table and losing five on a trot coming into the match. Derby matches are different, it makes no difference what happened before the match and what comes afterwards, it's just different. We don't see ourselves as favourites, we know what we have to do to win and that's exactly what we'll do".