Maccabi Tel Aviv will hope to qualify for European competition this season.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Maccabi Tel Aviv, Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Beersheba all found out who their first opponents will be when they begin their European campaigns in July at a draw that took place on Wednesday in Nyon, Switzerland.
Continental play will begin for Haifa and Beersheba on July 11, while Maccabi Tel Aviv will begin its qualification round two weeks later.
The yellow-and-blue will take part in Champions League qualifying for the first time since 2015 and will enter the competition in the second round, where it will meet the first-round winner of the match between Astana and CFR Cluj. Maccabi Tel Aviv faced the Kazakhstan side in the Europa League Group Stage back in the 2017/18 season and fell twice to Astana.
There are number of familiar faces that Maccabi may remember from the previous encounters, including striker Junior Kabananga, left defensive back Dmitri Shmoko and Marin Tomasov. However, Astana is now playing under the tutelage of Ukrainian coach Roman Hryhorchuk, who took over in the summer of 2018 and the club is currently in first place in domestic league action after 16 games.
Ovidiu Hoban, who once played for Hapoel Beersheba, now plies his trade for Romanian side Cluj, which is coached by Dan Petrescu. The boss had an illustrious career as a player featuring for a number of top European clubs, including Chelsea, where he featured between 1995-2000.
Cluj won its league title after a tight battle with Steaua Bucuresti and won the championship by just two points.
Meanwhile, Maccabi Haifa will open up its European journey with a Europa League first-round date against NS Mura of Slovenia. This will be the first time the Greens will take part in continental play since 2016/17, when they were eliminated by Estonian outfit Nomme Kalju FC.
Marko Balbul will begin the season coaching Haifa and is still building his roster for the upcoming campaign.
NS Mura is a relatively new team, founded back in 2013/14, and quickly moved up from the lower divisions to Slovenian Prva-Liga. It will be making its first foray into European soccer, earning the right by finishing fourth in the Slovenian domestic league.
Coach Ante Simundza manned the sidelines for Maribor a few years ago when Haifa star Sintayehu Sallalich won the championship with the Slovenian side in 2014 and 2015. Another interesting twist is that while guiding Maribor, Simundza eliminated Maccabi Tel Aviv in Champions League qualifying in 2014.
After three seasons in Champions League qualifying, Hapoel Beersheba dropped to Europa League qualifying after finishing in third place in the Israel Premier League.
Barak Bachar’s side’s first-round opponent will be KF Laci from Albania, which ended its domestic campaign in sixth place.
Veteran Albanian coach Sulejman Starova’s side earned a ticket to European play due to the fourth-place club Skenderbeu Korce being banned from all UEFA competitions and fifth-place side Flamurtari not being able to receive a license to participate in continental play.
This will be the sixth time that Laci has been in the Europa League qualifying rounds in the past decade, but was only able to advance past the first round once. That occurred last season, when it advanced over Anorthosis Famugusta from Cyprus, then coached by Beitar Jerusalem’s current boss Roni Levy.
Beersheba has played in the Europa League Group Stage in two of the last three seasons and hosted the likes of Italian giant Inter Milan and English Premier League side Southampton. The
Southern Israeli squad advanced to the round-of-32 in 2017, where it was eventually eliminated by Istanbul-based Besiktas.
Last season Bachar’s charges were bounced in the third round of qualifying by APOEL Nicosia and will look to find a way to once again feature in Europe’s second-tier club competition.
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