Ironi Kiryat Shmona’s campaign to reach the Champions League group stage will
begin in Slovakia next month after the Israeli champion was drawn on Monday to
face MSK Zilina in the second qualifying round.
After claiming the league
title against all odds last season, Kiryat Shmona will be looking to make more
history in European competition under new coach Gili Landau.
inherited an almost identical squad to the one Ran Ben-Shimon guided to the
championship in 2011/12 and can be pleased with Monday’s draw considering Kiryat
Shmona was unseeded, having played just four matches in continental competition
in its history until this season.
“If we believe in ourselves anything is
possible,” said Landau, who has never guided a top team apart from a few matches
in charge of Hapoel Tel Aviv at the start of the 2004/05 season.
a reasonable draw against a team which plays regularly in European competition
and reached the Champions League group stage two years ago. We will prepare to
the best of our abilities in the hope of advancing.”
Kiryat Shmona, which
avoided the likes of FC Basel and Partizan Belgrade, will visit Zilina in the
first leg on July 17/18 before hosting the second leg a week later at Kiryat
Eliezer Stadium in Haifa.
Unlike Kiryat Shmona, Zilina has vast European
experience, reaching the group stage of the Champions League in 2010/11 with a
win over Sparta Prague.
Zilina also knocked out Maccabi Tel Aviv in
Champions League qualifying in 2003/04, but it suffered a humbling exit at the
hands of KR Reykjavik of Iceland in the second qualifying round of the Europa
League last season.
“It’s an advantage to be playing the first leg on the
road, but we can’t take the Slovakian champion lightly,” Kiryat Shmona striker
Shimon Abu Hazeira said.
“Zilina took the double last season and we will
have to work hard in the time we have left until the match to make sure we are
Two of Israel’s representatives in the Europa League also
discovered on Monday who they will need to beat if they are to experience an
extended European campaign.
Maccabi Netanya, which finished in fourth
place last season, will face in the second qualifying round the winner of the
first round tie between KuPS Kuopio of Finland and Llanelli AFC of
Bnei Yehuda, which ended last season in third, will play FK Rudar
Pljevlja of Montenegro or FC Shirak of Armenia.
The Israeli teams will
host the first legs on July 19, with the return matches to be played a week
Hapoel Tel Aviv will enter the Europa League at the playoff round.