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Photo by: Asaf Kliger
K8 begins road to Champions League at Zilina
By ALLON SINAI
06/25/2012
After claiming the league title against all odds last season, Kiryat Shmona will be looking to make more history in European competition.
 
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.

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.

“This is 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 ready.”

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 Wales.

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 later.

Hapoel Tel Aviv will enter the Europa League at the playoff round.
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