Israeli soccer teams got back to competitive play over the weekend as Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Beersheba each played their first games of the 2019/20 season in Europa League group stage qualification contests.Maccabi Haifa kicked off its campaign on the right foot with a 2-0 win over Mura from Slovenia in first leg of first-round qualifying in a game played in the Carmel at Sammy Ofer Stadium.After a scoreless first half that left the fans a bit ambivalent, Yuval Ashkenazi made his mark and scored a fantastic goal from inside of the box to give the Greens a 1-0 lead in the 64th minute.Four minutes later Muhamed Awwad doubled the advantage to the crowd’s delight as Marco Balbul’s side picked up the victory and was serenaded by the faithful following the match.On Thursday night, Haifa will head to Slovenia for the second leg as it looks to advance to the second round of qualifying, where French club Strasbourg will be waiting.“Some people don’t take teams from Slovenia seriously,” said Balbul following the game. “I’m not one of them. We have where to improve and our performance so far was acceptable. I’ll take the result, but we still have another half to complete the job.Hapoel Beersheba, meanwhile, drew 1-1 with Laci in Albania in their first-leg matchup.Barak Bachar’s squad gave up an early goal to Nigerian target man Kyrian Nwabueze in the third minute, but substitute Gal Levi pulled the Southerners even in the 78th. The Reds had numerous chances to score in the second half and take home the victory, but Eden Shamir’s scorcher went off the woodwork and Naor Sabag’s opportunity from up close was smartly saved by the Laci ’keeper.The return leg will take place on Thursday at Turner Stadium, with Beersheba holding a slight away-goal advantage. Should the desert city side advance, either Siroki Brijeg of Bosnia or Kairat Almaty from Kazakhstan will be waiting, with Kairat winning their first leg 2-1 at Siroki.Following the contest, Bachar shared his thoughts about the first-leg result.“The players were shocked after the early goal, but they were able to take control and create chances soon thereafter,” he noted. “Laci is a very aggressive team and played well at home. We showed character and I believe we deserved to score at least the one goal that we did. At home, our target is to win the game and control the pace of play. We won’t be concentrating on the first-leg’s result.”Israeli champion Maccabi Tel Aviv will begin its continental journey next week when it visits either Astana in Kazakhstan or Cluj in Romania in Champions League qualifying.Over on the judo mat, Israel’s 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Ori Sasson captured a gold medal over Kokoro Kageura in the +100kg category at the Budapest Grand Prix, giving the 28-year-old Israeli judoka his first gold since the Tel Aviv Grand Prix back in January.On the baseball diamond, the Israel Under-18 squad defeated Belgium 8-5 to win the European Championship qualifiers in Stockholm and secure a place in next year’s European Championships. The blue-and-white’s Zev Moore was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player while the Best Batter was Israel’s Daniel Laderman.On the track, Selamawit Dagnachew booked her spot at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo in the 5,000 meters with a time of 15:08.39 in Kortrijk, Belgium.Dagnachew, who was born in Ethiopia and obtained Israeli citizenship this past April, will join husband Marhu Teferi in Tokyo after he qualified for the marathon in Sevilla Spain. The pair are the first married couple to represent Israel at the Olympics.In rowing, Paralympic rower Moran Samuel took home a silver medal at the 2019 World Rowing Cup III in Rotterdam in Women’s Single Sculls, while the blue-and-white also captured gold in Mixed Double Sculls thanks to Shay-Lee Mizrachi and Saleh Shahin. Israel also won gold in Mixed Coxed Four as Simona Goren, Barak Hazor, Achiya Klein, Michal Feinblat and Marissa Leah Sass stood atop the podium.