Hapoel Beersheba striker Ben Sahar (right) and teammate Maor Buzaglo, who both scored last night, celebrate the club's first Premier League championship in 40 years..
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
After ending its 40-year championship drought, Hapoel Beersheba has turned its focus to the next challenge - reaching the group stage of the Champions League.
Beersheba clinched its first Premier League title since 1976 with Saturday’s 3-1 win over Bnei Sakhnin, edging three-time defending champion Maccabi Tel Aviv by two points.
The players and fans partied long into the night, with the official championship celebrations to be held in the city on Monday.
Beersheba began preparing for next season long ago, but its plans will undergo some changes with the prospect of Champions League soccer becoming a reality.
Beersheba will get its continental campaign underway in the second qualifying round and will not be seeded due to its lack of success in Europe over recent years. The club will discover on June 20 its opponent in the second qualifying round, with the matches to be held on July 12-13 and July 19-20.
Beersheba could already face the likes of Scottish giant Celtic, Austrian champion Red Bull Salzburg and BATE Borisov in the second qualifying round, although could also be paired with the likes of Icelandic champion FH. Beersheba will be hoping to advance to the third qualifying round as that would ensure it at the very least a place in the Europa League playoffs.
However, before fully turning its attention to next season, Beersheba is enjoying its triumph, which came only three years after securing its top-flight survival in the last match of the campaign, completing a remarkable transformation under the inspired ownership of Alona Barkat.
“We have waited for this for so long,” said Barkat. “This is an amazing city with amazing fans and we were desperate to give this to them. A lot of things fell into place for us this season. We didn’t know how the season would end, but we knew it would be good.
We know what we want to do ahead of next season, but now is the time to celebrate.”
Benayoun, Barda dropped by Levy New Israel national team Elisha Levy named his first squad on Sunday, leaving out veterans Yossi Benayoun and Elyaniv Barda while calling up youngsters Neta Lavi of Maccabi Haifa and Dor Peretz of Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Israel faces Serbia in an international friendly in Novi Sad next Tuesday in what will be Levy’s first match at the helm.
Hapoel Beersheba leads the way with six players in the squad while Maccabi Tel Aviv has five. Another notable absentee is Beram Kayal, who plays for Brighton & Hove Albion of the English Championship.
The national team doesn’t play its first World Cup 2018 qualifier until September 5 when it hosts Italy.
Benayoun and Barda could be back in the frame by then after some much-needed rest in the summer.
Israel’s hopes of reaching the World Cup for the first time since 1970 were already all but dashed after being paired with former World Cup winners Spain and Italy in qualifying Group G. Only the winners of each group will qualify automatically, with the eight best runners-up to advance to home-and-away playoffs.
Israel will also face Albania, Macedonia and Liechtenstein, and the main target facing Levy will be to build a side capable of challenging for a place in Euro 2020.