Hapoel Beersheba midfielder Maharan Radi (center) scored his team’s opener a 3-0 victory over Hapoel Kfar Saba.
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
The likes of Manchester United, Inter Milan and Athletic Bilbao are all potential opponents for Hapoel Beersheba in Friday’s Europa League group stage draw.
Nevertheless, despite the possibility of some of European soccer’s biggest names visiting Turner Stadium in the coming months, Beersheba’s players, coaches and fans will likely be watching Thursday’s Champions League group draw wistfully, feeling their club’s name should have been in the pot instead of Celtic’s.
Beersheba came within a single goal of advancing to the prestigious group stage in its first season in the competition on Tuesday, beating Celtic 2-0 in the second leg at Turner. Beersheba dominated the Scottish powerhouse, but goals from Ben Sahar (21) and Ovidiu Hoban (48) were not enough to overturn a 5-2 defeat from the first leg in Celtic Park, leaving the Israeli champion to ponder what might have been while it looks forward to life in the Europa League.
Beersheba’s usually stoic coach Barak Bachar had to cut short his post-match interview after failing to control his emotions, while midfielder Maharan Radi was inconsolable at the final whistle, shedding tears after missing a penalty in the 15th minute, which in his mind cost his team a place in the group stage.
“We deserved to win by a bigger margin,” said Radi. “No one gave us a chance but we showed we have a very good team and we were so close to registering an upset. This is the saddest win of my career.”
The real regret for Beersheba on Tuesday night was the margin of defeat in the first leg.
Beersheba trailed 3-0 following a nightmare first half in Celtic Park, but was well placed after scoring two goals within two minutes courtesy of Lucio (55) and Maor Melikson (57).
But Bachar’s boys would concede twice more in the 73rd and 85th minutes, leaving them with a mountain to climb to become the sixth Israeli team to play in the Champions League group stage.
While it didn’t feel that way on Tuesday, a place in the Europa League groups is no scant consolation.
Rome of Italy, Schalke 04 of Germany and Villarreal of Spain are three more big names, in addition to the ones aforementioned, who could be coming soon to Turner.
Beersheba is guaranteed 5.4 million euro from UEFA prize money, with additional sums to enter the club’s back account via TV rights and ticket sales.
The group stage will begin on September 15 and run until December 8.
“We proved that we can compete and beat Celtic,” said Sahar.
“We needed just one more goal, but now we have the Europa League to look forward to. We are proud of what we achieved, but sad we couldn’t complete the job.”