Maccabi Tel Aviv coach Slavisa Jokanovic.
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Maltese champion Hibernians will be Maccabi Tel Aviv’s first hurdle on the way to the Champions League group stage after the two were paired together in the second qualifying round in Monday’s draw.
Maccabi will be a firm favorite to overcome Hibernians, which hasn’t won a game in European competition since 2002. The yellow-and-blue will visit Malta for the first leg on July 14/15 and will host the return leg at Bloomfield Stadium a week later.
Maccabi was seeded in Monday’s draw, but won’t be in the third qualifying round assuming it overcomes Hibernians, meaning it could face the likes of Celtic, FC Basel or APOEL Nicosia.
Tel Aviv was knocked out in the third qualifying round in each of the previous two season and is hoping to reach the group stage for the second time in club history and the first since 2004/05.
“Every draw is tricky and whether it is a good draw or a tough draw we will know only after the two matches are played,” said Maccabi’s new Serbian coach Slavisa Jokanovic. “We will study Hibernians closely to ensure we are prepared to the best of our ability for the first leg in Malta. As far as travel is concerned, Malta will probably be an easier destination than one of the other potential opponents we could have drawn.”
Sports director Jordi Cruyff, who ended his playing career at Maltese club Valletta, added: “We respect all our opponents and will try to be well prepared. On a personal note, I will be very happy to return to Malta which is an island I know well where people are friendly and I have good memories from.”
Beitar Jerusalem will be the first Israeli team in European action this summer when it faces Ordabasy Shymkent of Kazakhstan in the Europa League first qualifying round. Beitar visits Ordabasy next Thursday before hosting the second leg a week later. Should Beitar overcome its Kazakh opponent it will play strong Belgian outfit Charleroi.
Beitar will be playing in Europe for the first time since 2008 after finishing last season in fourth place in the Premier League standings.
“This is a very difficult draw,” said new Beitar coach Slobodan Drapic. “We will have to travel a long way and we know nothing about our opponent. They are in the middle of their season and we must remember that both Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Tel Aviv really struggled in the past against opponents from Kazakhstan.”
Hapoel Beersheba hasn’t won a European tie since 1997 and it will not have an easy time ending that drought this season after being drawing on Monday to play Thun of Switzerland in the second qualifying round of the Europa League.
“Our goal is to progress, but it is already clear we will not have a simple time doing so,” said new Beersheba coach Barak Bachar.