The celebrations that followed the win over Viktoria Plzen in the Champions League third qualifying round officially ended on Friday when Maccabi Tel Aviv was drawn to face FC Basel in the playoffs..
(photo credit: UDI ZITIAT/BSL)
Maccabi Tel Aviv will have to do it the hard way if it’s to reach the Champions League group stage.
The three-time defending Israeli champion was paired in the playoffs with the one opponent it was hoping to avoid on Friday, being drawn to face FC Basel of Switzerland for a place in the group stage.
Maccabi could have also played either Celtic of Scotland, APOEL Nicosia of Cyprus, BATE Borisov of Belarus or Dinamo Zagreb of Croatia, but for the third time in three seasons Basel will be the team standing in the way of the realization of its continental dreams.
The first leg will be played in Switzerland on August 19, with Maccabi to host the return leg on August 25 at Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa.
“This is the third time Maccabi Tel Aviv is drawn against FC Basel and so far we didn’t manage to beat them on four occasions,” said Maccabi coach Slavisa Jokanovic. “This is the toughest team we could have received, but this shouldn’t make us scared in anyway. In order to reach the Champions League group stage you must face the top teams.”
Basel knocked Maccabi out of both the Champions League and Europa League in 2013/14. Following a 1-0 defeat on the road in the first leg of the Champions League playoffs two seasons ago, Maccabi managed to come back from three goals down to draw 3-3 in the second leg against Basel, but couldn’t score the two additional goals it required to win on aggregate.
Later that season, Basel and Maccabi met in the round of 32 of the Europa League, with the Israelis coming through the Europa group stage and the Swiss being awarded their place following their Champions League exit. The first leg in Tel Aviv ended in a 0-0 draw, but Basel triumphed 3-0 in the return leg in Switzerland to secure its progress.
Basel reached the round of 16 of the Champions League last season, coming through a group which included Real Madrid and Liverpool before being knocked out by Porto of Portugal.
Coach Paulo Sousa, who had previously guided Maccabi, left for Fiorentina of Italy this summer, being replaced by Urs Fischer.
Basel has also made several changes to its squad, with Fabian Schar and Fabian Frei among those leaving for the German Bundesliga.
However, the six-time defending Swiss champion has also been busy bringing in new players, signing Dutch midfielder Jean-Paul Boetius from Feyenoord, Icelandic midfielder Birkir Bjarnason from Pescara and Serbian midfielder Zdravko Kuzmanovic from Inter Milan, each for a fee estimated at two million euros.
Maccabi is aiming to reach the group stage for the second time in club history, and the first since the 2004/05 season, and will draw plenty of confidence from knocking out Czech champion Viktoria Plzen in the previous round.
The win against Plzen has already ensured Maccabi an extended continental campaign, as the losers in the playoffs are all handed an automatic berth to the Europa League group stage.
Maccabi has guaranteed itself around NIS 20 million even should it be sent packing in the playoffs, with progress to the Champions League group stage to be worth around NIS 50 million, from UEFA prize money alone.
“Any opponent at this level is tough,” said Maccabi defender Tal Ben-Haim. “We are improving with every match and we will not give up without a fight.
Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to beat them in the previous two meetings, but we all believe we can overcome Basel this time even though it won’t be easy.”