Beersheba coach Barak Bachar.
(photo credit: DANNY MAROM)
Hapoel Beersheba will find out on Friday which team stands in its way of a first ever appearance in the Champions League group stage after scrapping through to the playoffs by the skin of its teeth on Wednesday night.
Beersheba players and fans breathed a huge sigh of relief at the final whistle in Razgard, Bulgaria after losing 3-1 to Ludogorets, but holding on for a 3-3 tie on aggregate which sent the two-time reigning Israeli champion through on away goals. Beersheba claimed a 2-0 win in the first leg last week.
Regardless of the outcome of its playoff tie, Beersheba has already guaranteed itself continental play deep into the winter.
The 10 teams to lose in the Champions League playoffs will be handed a berth in the Europa League group stage.
Beersheba is looking to become the fourth Israeli club to play in the Champions League group stage. Maccabi Tel Aviv was the last to do so in 2015/16, also reaching the group stage in 2004/05. Hapoel Tel Aviv qualified for the prestigious stage in 2010/11 and Maccabi Haifa has done so twice in the past (2002/03, 2009/10).
Beersheba won’t be seeded in Friday’s draw in Nyon, Switzerland and has got five potential opponents. Olympiacos of Greece looks to be the strongest team in the draw, even though Beersheba stunned the Greeks in the third qualifying round last season. Hapoel could also face Scottish powerhouse Celtic for a second straight season.
Celtic claimed a 5-4 aggregate win over Beersheba in the playoffs last season, winning the first leg 5-2 in Glasgow before Barak Bachar’s team came within a goal of advancing with a 2-0 victory in the return leg.
Other possible opponents include: FC Copenhagen of Denmark, APOEL Nicosia of Cyprus and Maribor of Slovenia.
Ludogorets moved ahead on aggregate in the 56th minute of the second leg on Wednesday thanks to Marcelinho’s goal, with Wanderson (9, 33) netting a first-half brace. Beersheba regained the lead on away goals in the 61st minute after a fortuitous deflection sent Mohammad Ghadir’s shot over the goalkeeper’s head. The tie could have swung in either direction in the final minutes when both teams missed several good chances, with Beersheba’s John Ogu blasting a penalty wide in the 86th minute.
“We were lucky, but we ultimately achieved our target. We will now try and take another step and realize our dream of reaching the Champions group stage,” said Bachar.
On Thursday, Bnei Yehuda was knocked out in the third qualifying round of the Europa League despite a valiant effort.
Bnei Yehuda stunned Russian powerhouse Zenit St. Petersburg 1-0 in Russia through Almog Buzaglo’s goal (67). But it was Zenit which advanced thanks to its 2-0 win in the first leg in Petah Tikva.
The second leg between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Panionios in Greece ended after press time.
Maccabi won the first leg 1-0.