Hap TA gets Zeljeznicar to kick off Champions League qualies
hapoel tel aviv 311
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi TA and Bnei Yehuda also discover first opponents in European competition.
Hapoel Tel Aviv’s campaign to reach the Champions League group stage for the first time in its history will begin next month against Bosnian champion FK Zeljeznicar.Hapoel, which has only participated in the qualifiers of European soccer’s most prestigious competition once before, in the 2000/2001 season, was drawn on Monday to host the side from Sarajevo on July 13/14 before visiting the Bosnian capital for the return leg the following week.Tel Aviv, which captured the Premier League title in the most dramatic of fashions last season when it scored the championship-clinching goal in the final seconds of the last match of the campaign, was among the top-seeded teams in Monday’s draw.Thanks to its excellent showings in the Europa League in recent seasons will continue to be pitted against weaker opponents should it make the third qualifying round and the playoffs. Nevertheless, no one at the club is expecting an easy ride into the group stage and Tel Aviv’s players and staff have no intention of taking any opponent lightly, starting with Zeljeznicar.“A team which is the champion of Bosnia can not be weak,” star striker Itai Shechter said. “We are not expecting any easy matches in a league which is made up of champions.” Despite what he deems to be a tough draw, Shechter is confident his team will progress.“Last season we were also handed tough draws and we successfully came through them,” he said, speaking of Hapoel’s run to the round of 32 of the Europa League.“This season we will have to work even harder to succeed in the Champions League to bring honor to the club and the fans.”Zeljeznicar claimed its first local league title in eight years last season, and, like Hapoel, will also be looking to reach the group stage for the first time ever. The Bosnians came close to making the groups in the 2002/03 season when they were only knocked out in the third qualifying round by Newcastle United. However, Zeljeznicar has struggled for success in recent years and its tie against Hapoel will be its first in European competition since the 2004/05 season.Maccabi Tel Aviv and Bnei Yehuda also discovered the identity of their first opponents in European competition on Monday.Maccabi’s expensively assembled squad of stars progressed automatically to the second qualifying round where it will face the winner of the tie between Andorra’s Santa Coloma and FK Mogren of Montenegro.Manager Avi Nimni was his usual diplomatic self when commenting on the draw.“Every European tie is difficult and we will do our best to go as far as possible both in Europe and in Israel this season,” he said.Maccabi will host the first leg on July 15 before playing the second leg abroad the following week.Bnei Yehuda will begin its European travels three weeks earlier, visiting Armenia’s FC Ulisses in the first leg of the first round on July 1 before hosting the return leg a week later.“This is the fourth time I will be starting a season in Armenia,” said Bnei Yehuda’s new coach Dror Kashtan.“I know Armenian soccer well, but I will have to learn about our opponent in the coming days so we can prepare properly.”Maccabi Haifa will begin its participation in the Europa League in the third qualifying round.