Hannover 96 and FC Schalke 04 play their second Europa League group stage matches this Thursday. Both will face clubs that aren’t familiar to many Bundesliga followers — Hannover will play in the Ukraine against FC Vorskla Poltava in the later round of Thursday’s Europa League games while Schalke will host Israeli Premier League side Maccabi Haifa FC at the Veltins Arena in the first group of Thursday’s matchups. (Both games will be available to U.S. viewers on DirecTV Europa League mix — the Schalke-Haifa match kicks off at 1:00 pm EDT on CH. 483 while the Vorskla -Hannover contest begins at 3:00 pm EDT on Channel 486).
Schalke – Maccabi Haifa
After one match, Maccabi Haifa FC lead Group J after defeating AEK Lamaca while Schalke had to settle for a scoreless draw against Steaua Bucherest. Maccabi Haifa won the Israeli Premier League title in 2010-2011, their 12 title in club history that dates back to 1913, and played in the State Cup final, losing to Hapoel Tel Aviv to miss out on the double. Haifa qualified for the Champions League, but were knocked out August’s playoff round by Belgian side RC Genk. Haifa are one of Israel’s most popular clubs, as one survey stated that 25% of Israeli football fans support Haifa, and according to another poll are the most popular squad among Arab citizens of Israel.
The Green, coached since 2008 by Elisha Levy, currently stand fourth in their domestic league table with a 3-1-2 record for 10 points so far this season, trailing league leaders Maccabi Tel Aviv by five points, though Haifa have scored fourteen goals while only allowing seven. They come in to Thursday’s match following Saturday’s 5-0 Israel Premier League home win against Ironi Ramat Hasharon, a team currently 14th in the 16 team table. Haifa have both a Champions League and Europa/UEFA League pedigree, and in 28 matches in Europa/UEFA League competition, have won and lost 10 times while drawing eight matches. Possibly the most well-known player on Levy’s current team is Tamir Cohen, the former Bolton midfielder who played the last four seasons in EPL, making 58 appearances for the Wanderers in all competitions.
Schalke, meanwhile, played a scoreless draw in their first Europa League Group Stage match away against Steaua Buceresti, and need a win at the Veltins Arena Thursday. Since their last Europa League match, coach Ralf Rangnick has resigned, and on Tuesday it was announced that Dutch coach Huub Stevens will be coaching the Royal Blues. Stevens has a Schalke background, having coached the club from 1996 through 2002, leading Schalke to a 1997 UEFA Cup trophy and two Pokal trophies. The club is coming off a 4-2 win on MatchDay 7 over SC Freiburg, with Farfan, Huntelaar, Holtby and Raul all registering goals.
FC Vorskla Poltava – Hannover 96
FC Vorskla Poltava will attempt to continue their four game European unbeaten streak at home when they host Hannover Thursday. The Ukranian side has only lost two of eleven European matches played at home in their history, but will be meeting a German side for the first time in a competitve match. Hannover have never played a competitive match against a Ukrainian club either.
Vorskla Potava are named for the river that flows through Poltava. The Green-Whites trace their heritage back to 1955, and entered the Ukrainian Premier League in 1996-1997. Fifty-seven year-old coach Mykola Pavlov has led Vorskla since 2007, and has been in coaching since 1988. leading Dynamo Kiev to the 1995-1996 domestic title. He has experience coaching in European competition and also brought Vorskla the 2009 Ukrainian Cup title when they defeated Shakhtar Donetsk in the final and a home win over Benfica in the 2009 Europa League.
Almost the entire roster of Vorskla Potava players are Ukrainians, with the exception of Albanians Ahmed Januzi and Armend Dallku, while striker Dzmitry Asipenka hails from Belarus and veteran midfielder Jovan Markoski is from Serbia. Vorskla are currently tied for fourth in their domestic table with a record of five wins, two draws and four losses, but were unable to get a shot on goal in their 1-0 loss to FC Copenhagen in their first Group B Europa League match two weeks ago.
Mirko Slomka’s Hannover club have only lost once in eleven competitve matches thus far in 2011-2012, though three draws, including last weekend’s scoreless tie at Augsburg, mar their record somewhat. The 96ers have never won away from home in UEFA competitions, although Thursday will be only their third attempt. Slomka, however, has tasted UEFA Cup success as he led Schalke from the field of 32 teams to the semifinals after replacing Ralf Rangnick as Schalke’s coach in the 2005-2006 season.