Hapoel Holon faces Cholet in Champions League action on Wednesday as they look to advance to the second stage of the competition for the first time since entering the league back in the 2017/18 season.
After downing perennial Champions League contender AEK last Gameday, Holon sits in first place in Group C with a 3-2 record and a win in France will see them though to the next round. Should Stefanos Dedas’s team fall against Cholet they may still be able to advance depending on point differential and the result of the other group game featuring AEK and Tsmoki-Minsk.
Holon had an arduous travel schedule as they flew to Paris, France on Monday and then had a five hour trip to Cholet as the ready for the decisive group game. Chris Johnson and Maxim De Zeeuw who were both slightly injured last contest against Hapoel Tel Aviv are fit and will play while Rich Howell and Yogev Ohayon who are both unavailable due to injuries accompanied the team. Howell is slated to return to play next week when the Israeli league re-starts an Ohayon will be out for another two weeks or so.
“This is another special game for us,” explained head coach Stefanos Dedas. “We are 40 minutes away from making history. We are coming into the game with complete confidence with the goal of defeating Cholet in France but we are aware that this will be a tough game. We will do our utmost to make our fans proud one more time.”
Captain Guy Pnini also looked ahead to the clash, “We control our own destiny as we head into the last game. We will give everything so that we don’t miss this opportunity to advance. It’s very important that we play smart and aggressive ball.”
With history at its fingertips, Holon will look to finally move on to the next round of the Champions League after failing to do so in the three prior campaigns.
In their first year of the league, Holon got its feet wet and ended the competition with a 3-11 record playing in a group with European powerhouses including Monaco, Sassari and Murcia.
The following season in 2018/19, Holon ended the regular season with a record of 7-7, however, they began 6-2 and went only 1-5 over the last six games losing to Nanterre, Bonn, Tenerife, PAOK and Venezia down the stretch.
Last year, Holon came oh so close to advancing to a playoff spot as they sat with a 6-6 record with two game to go. However, a loss away at Sassari and then a devastating 69-68 defeat at the hands of Lietkabelis ended the dream of advancing.
WATCH: TROY CAUPAIN’S OFFENSIVE FOUL
Let’s take a look back at the last few minutes of what was an absolutely crushing loss. Guy Pnini hit a 3-pointer to give Holon a 68-63 lead with 2:23 left in the game, but a four points by Tomas Dimsa pulled the visitors to within 68-66 with 1:04 to go. Troy Caupain was then called for a very questionable offensive foul as he dribbled up court and TJ Cline missed a turnaround jumper in the paint with 21 seconds left.
WATCH: MARCUS FOSTER’S FOUL
With the Lithuanian squad on the ropes, Marcus Foster committed a foul with only one second on the clock when he jumped and grazed Paulius Valinskas beyond the arc good for 3 free throws. 1,2,3 all went in with the last taking a couple of bounces before final dropping into the basket.
WATCH: INBOUNDS PASS AND FINAL SHOT
That left Holon with one final chance. Ryan Thompson looked for Israeli sharpshooter Pnini who cut on the baseline to the corner but he was covered. Thompson then inbounded the ball to Caupain at the top of the arc who took a dribble and sent a desperation heave that clanged off the rim ending Holon’s chances of moving on.
Holon will want to put that game behind them as they look to punch their ticket to the next round against Cholet. They’ve played well this short campaign with solid victories, especially the last win over AEK where they were able to not only take the W, but also have a better point differential.
Will Stefanos Dedas’s club be able to advance? Find out on Wednesday at 19:30 Israel time to find out!