Hapoel Tel Aviv will be optimistic regarding its chances of reaching the knockout stages of the Europa League, while Ironi Kiryat Shmona will be looking to simply enjoy the experience after both teams discovered who they will face in the group stage in Friday’s draw in Monaco.
Hapoel reached the group stage of a European competition for the sixth time in seven years on Thursday night with a 4-0 victory over F91 Dudelange (7-1 on aggregate) of Luxembourg, and although it is bound to struggle against last season’s Europa League winner Atletico Madrid in Group B, it will be confident of progressing to the round of 32 from second place ahead of Viktoria Plzen of the Czech Republic and Adademica de Coimbra of Portugal.
While Hapoel was in the second seeding pot due to its relative success in continental competition over recent years, Kiryat Shmona was in the fourth and last pot, resulting in a far tougher draw.
Kiryat Shmona was placed in Group I with French powerhouse Olympique Lyon, last season’s Europa League finalist Athletic Bilbao and Sparta Prague of the Czech Republic.
Both Kiryat Shmona and Hapoel will play their six group matches on Thursdays starting on September 20 and ending on December 6.
“This is a difficult and challenging group,” Hapoel coach Nitzan Shirazi said in his typical wary manner.
“To play against the cup holder in the Vicente Calderon Stadium is something every player and coach dreams of.
“Plzen and Academica are also not easy obstacles, but we are certain we will be able to compete with every team."
Kiryat Shmona coach Gili Landau, whose team qualified for the Europa League group stage following its defeat to BATE Borisov in the Champions League playoffs, understands how difficult his side’s task is, but believes his players will fight for as long as they have a chance.
“This is clearly a tough draw, but we will be pessimistic now and optimistic when we play the matches,” Landau said.
“I have a wonderful squad.
They believe in their ability to do great things and I believe we will put on a respectable showing.”
Elsewhere in the draw, Tottenham Hotspur, which finished fourth in the Premier League last season but was denied a place in the Champions League when Chelsea won that competition, was grouped with Panathinaikos, Lazio and Maribor.
Five-time European champion Liverpool faces Udinese and Young Boys as well as the newly-enriched Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala, which boasts Samuel Eto’o, the world’s best-paid player, in its ranks.