Hapoel Beersheba players.
(photo credit: UDI ZITIAT)
Hapoel Beersheba is confident of reaching the Europa League round-of-32 for a second straight year after avoiding the big names in Friday’s group stage draw in Monte Carlo.
However, Maccabi Tel Aviv’s chances of making the knockout rounds for the first time after four years suffered a blow after being placed in Group A with Villarreal of Spain and the champions of the Czech Republic and Kazakhstan, Slavia Prague and Astana, respectively.
Beersheba is in Group G with Viktoria Plzen of the Czech Republic, Steaua Bucharest of Romania and Lugano of Switzerland. The top two teams from the 16 groups will qualify for the round-of-32.
“For us it is a second straight season in the Europa League and we are facing a challenge as significant at least as the one we did last season,” said Beersheba coach Barak Bachar. “Every match at this stage is a great experience and I’m certain that this European campaign at Turner Stadium will also be exciting and good.”
Beersheba, which received a berth in the Europa group stage after being knocked out by Maribor in the Champions League playoffs, stunningly advanced to the round-of-32 last season, finishing second behind Sparta Prague, but ahead of Southampton of the English Premier League and Inter Milan of Serie A.
Beersheba opens its campaign against Lugano at Turner on September 14, with the group stage to run until December 7.
Maccabi progressed to the group stage of a continental competition for the third straight season and the fourth time in the past four years after overcoming Altach of Austria in the Europa playoffs on Thursday.
However, it is aiming to reach the knockout rounds in Europe for just the second time in its history and the first since 2013/14, when it lost to FC Basel in the Europa League round-of-32.
The yellow-and-blue visits Prague in its group opener on September 14.
“We were handed a tough draw,” said Maccabi coach Jordi Cruyff.
“Usually you expect to receive at least one opponent which you know you will be able to pick up points against. It is a little disappointing that after we managed to be seeded in Pot 2 we received a difficult opponent from Pot 3 (Astana). Of course, our first goal is the league. We want to fight for the championship and Europe isn’t our top priority.”