Matchday three: Missions implausible

Pure, old-fashioned loneliness.

That was the reason Maccabi Haifa’s Georgian striker Vladimir Dvalishvili gave for his recent goal drought.

As he eloquently explained to coach Elisha Levy: “It’s not easy for me personally. I have nothing – I come to practice and then I go home.”

While it’s tempting to just sigh, “ah diddums,” Dvalishvili is only 23. He has one good friend in Israel – Zurab Menteshashvili at Hapoel Tel Aviv – who he doesn’t see very often.

And the only other person in Israel he knows who talks his language is Georgi Derasilia, Haifa’s assistant coach.

The striker tried to lift his depression by vowing to score in Bordeaux on matchday two.

That didn’t work. But the bad news for Juventus is that he grabbed a brace at the weekend, so he may have put his personal problems behind him.

Maccabi Haifa are one of four teams who enter matchday three of the 2009/10 UEFA Champions League looking to end their pointless existence.

The others are Besiktas, Debreceni and Marseille.

This mission looks most plausible for Didier Deschamps’ team away to Zurich.

Marseille’s veteran striker Fernando Morientes sums up the club’s position succinctly: “The problem is that we have no points; two matches and no points so we have to play to win.”

Although Zurich’s shock win over Milan kept Group C alive, Marseille still have it all to do.

In Group B, the odds seem similarly stacked against Besiktas, away to Wolfsburg, who have never beaten a Bundesliga side in this competition and have lost their last four away fixtures in the group stage.

In Group E, Debreceni are hoping, as their coach Andras Herczeg put it, for a flawless display – especially at the back – to have a chance to earn at least a point against Fiorentina at Budapest.

On paper, Maccabi Haifa face the ultimate mission implausible against Juventus in Turin in the Group A.

But the bianconeri, on a run of five games without a win, have lost their way.

Defensive talisman Giorgio Chiellini has tried to rally his team-mates saying this double-header must be the moment Juventus turn their season around.

It might be tougher than Chiellini expects. Juve have won not won in their last six Champions League games and have only scored three goals in those matches.

The Israeli champions pushed Bordeaux all the way before losing 1-0 and played better than the scoreline in their 3-0 defeat by Bayern suggests.

And if Dvalishvili has put his blues behind him, who knows?

Haifa fans hope Levy starts with Shlomi Arbeitman. The pacy 24-year-old striker is one of those players – like David Ginola – who is more popular with fans than coaches.

In a stop-start career, he scored a hat-trick on his debut for the Israeli national team in February 2004 but these days is more often used as an over-age player in the U21s.

Arbeitman played alongside Dvalishvili in attack at the weekend as Haifa maintained their 100 percent record in the league.

The Israelis will miss their skipper Yaniv Katan sidelined by a fever.

Rangers' grip on a place in the last 16 is almost as slender as Haifa’s.

With one point from two games in Group G, they face Dan Petrescu’s Unirea at Ibrox in the Scottish club’s 150th game in this competition.

This might look like a banker for Walter Smith’s team, but Rangers have failed to score in six of their last eight home games in Europe and only won one of those eight.

Rangers played their best 45 minutes of football this season against Stuttgart but Petrescu had a point when, in a wondrous back-handed compliment, he said the danger man for Unirea wasn’t a Rangers player but Walter Smith.

The history books tell us that the last Scottish team to defeat a Romanian side in European competition were indeed Rangers, who beat Steaua 2-1 in the European Cup quarter-finals in 1988.

This isn’t quite the great omen it might seem as the Gers lost the tie 3-2 on aggregate.

APOEL Nicosia, who travel to Porto, will certainly be hoping to avoid what Shirley Bassey might call a little bit of history repeating itself.

On their only previous trip to Portugal, in the 1963/64 Cup Winners’ Cup, they lost 16-1 to Sporting, a record defeat in a European game.

For Rubin Kazan supporters, just travelling to Camp Nou to face European champions Barcelona in Group F is quasi-official confirmation of how far their team has come.

But if they need cheering up after the game, they might want to go here and marvel at this gallery of photos which captures a little known phase in Pep Guardiola’s career when he was auditioning for the Spanish Take That.

Pop’s loss of Pep was European football’s gain.

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