(photo credit: Maccabi Tel Aviv Web site)
Hapoel Tel Aviv’s campaign to reach the Champions League group stage for the
first time in club history will likely have to go through Kazakhstan after the
Reds were paired on Friday with the winner of the second qualifying round tie
between Kazakh champion FK Aktobe and FC Olimpi Rustavi of
Hapoel all but booked its place in the third qualifying round
last week after thrashing Bosnian club FK Zeljeznicar 5-0 in the first leg of
the second round at Bloomfield Stadium.
Tel Aviv should officially secure
its progress when it visits Sarajevo for the return leg on Wednesday,
Aktobe beating Rustavi 2-0 in the first leg of its tie, it seems all but
Eli Gutman’s men will soon be paying a visit to Kazakhstan.
advance as expected, it will be facing the Israeli champion in the
for a second straight season. Last year, the Kazakhs drew 0-0 at home
Maccabi Haifa before taking a stunning 3-0 lead after 15 minutes at
However, the Greens fought back to claim a 4-3 victory
before eventually reaching the group stage with a 5-1 aggregate win over
“First we must finish the job in Bosnia and that is what
we are focusing on for the moment,” Hapoel midfielder Gili Vermut said.
the Kazakhs against Haifa last year and they gave them a real tough
can’t take them lightly.
“The coaching staff will prepare us for the
match in the same way it did for the Bosnians and we will be
Aktobe’s only advantage against Hapoel will be the fact that it
is currently entering the closing stages of its local season.
coach Vladimir Mukhanov’s team, which has won three straight
currently in fourth position in the Kazakh league, four points from the
after winning nine, drawing four and losing five of its 18 matches to
Rustavi is making just its third ever appearance in European
competition this season, and despite holding its own in Kazakhstan last
will be the clear underdog in the second leg in Georgia after failing to
on the road.
Hapoel will play the first leg of the third qualifying round
on the road on either July 27 or 28, with the return leg to be played at
Bloomfield the following week.
The third qualifying round is followed by
a two-legged playoff from which the winner will advance to the group
Hapoel will be among the seeded teams should it reach the playoff
round, ensuring it will not face the same cruel fate as Tel Aviv’s two
Premier League teams, who were handed tough opponents in Nyon,
Friday after being unseeded in the Europa League’s third qualifying
Bnei Yehuda, which drew 1- 1 with Shamrock Rovers in Dublin on
Thursday, was drawn to play Italian powerhouse Juventus in the third
round, while Maccabi Tel Aviv faces a daunting tie against Greek giant
Juventus, a 27-time Italian champion and twice a Champions
League winner, is beginning its European campaign far earlier than it is
accustomed to after finishing in a bitterly disappointing seventh place
Serie A last season.
Bnei Yehuda led for much of its first leg in the
Irish capital after Omri Afek scored the opener in the 26th minute.
substitute Robert Bayly equalized in the first minute of stoppage time
seriously complicated Bnei Yehuda’s situation.
The teams meet again at
Bloomfield Stadium on Thursday.
Maccabi beat FK Mogren 2- 0 in its first
leg at home and should have little trouble securing its place in the
in Montenegro on Thursday.
Olympiacos, which failed to claim the Greek
championship last season after taking the local league title in 11 of
previous 12 years, beat Albania’s FK Besa 5-0 in the first leg of its
Maccabi Haifa, which will begin its continental campaign in
the Europa League’s third round, will in all likelihood play Dinamo
the Belarusians beat JK Sillamae Kalev 5-1 in the first leg of the
Haifa and Bnei Yehuda were drawn to host the first leg on July 29,
with Tel Aviv to visit the Greek capital in the opening encounter of its
The second legs will be played a week later.
“Minsk seems to be a good
side and we will do our utmost to learn all about it in the two weeks we
until the first leg,” said Haifa captain Yaniv Katan.
“We will do our
very best to prepare for the match and progress to the playoff round.”