Hapoel Tel Aviv may not have been paired with the likes of Barcelona, Manchester
United or Real Madrid in Thursday’s Champions League group stage draw in
However, the benefit of missing out on the continent’s
powerhouses is that Hapoel will be confident of making its mark, and perhaps
even becoming the first Israeli team to advance to the knockout stages of the
Champions League, after being drawn in Group B with French runnerup Olympique
Lyonnais, Portuguese champion S.L. Benfica and Schalke 04, which finished second
in the German Bundesliga last season.
Hapoel is the clear underdog in
Group B, but after winning a Europa League group which included Hamburg,
and Rapid Vienna last season, the Reds will have high hopes of becoming
most successful team in European soccer’s most prestigious
“On paper this is not the most attractive group we could
have got,” Hapoel’s star midfielder Gili Vermut said.
“But we don’t want
to just participate in the group stage, we want to try and take points
finish in second or third position. At least we will get the chance to
Raul,” he said with a smile of the prospect of facing the former Real
striker, who moved to Schalke over the summer.
Coach Eli Gutman actually
feels that Hapoel has been handed a fascinating draw.
“This is an
interesting group with attractive teams,” he said.
“Maybe not as
attractive as Barcelona or Manchester United, but we will do our best to
represent the club with honor.”
Hapoel’s group stage will begin on
September 14 at Benfica and will end at Lyon on December 7.
was the first Israeli team to reach the group stage, winning two and
of its six matches in the 2002/03 season to finish in a very respectable
Maccabi Tel Aviv managed one win and one draw in the 2004/05
season, with Maccabi Haifa becoming the first team in the competition’s
to end the group stage without points or goals last season.
will have to play its home matches at National Stadium in Ramat Gan
ruled Bloomfield Stadium isn’t fit to host the group stage, will surely
to at least score in its six group games and will believe in it chances
avoiding last place in the group.
Lyon has become an integral part of the
Champions League in the past decade after winning seven straight French
titles between 2002 and 2008. However, the Frenchmen have failed to win
local championship in the past two campaigns, although they did reach
semifinals of the Champions League last season.
Benfica claimed its first
Portuguese league title in five years last season, but has had little
the Champions League in recent times, getting past the group stage just
the past decade.
Schalke finished second to Bayern Munich in Germany last
term, but it has also only passed the group stage a single time in its
appearances since 2001.
Meanwhile, Real Madrid, AC Milan and Ajax, who
have won 20 European Cups between them, will meet in the group stage.
is the second consecutive season that nine-time champion Madrid and
winner Milan have been drawn together. Auxerre is the fourth team in
“You want to win every match and when you see AC Milan and Real Madrid
in the pool, you know it will be tough,” Ajax coach Martin Jol said
Milan midfielder Clarence Seedorf, a two-time winner with the
Serie A side, has also won the competition with Madrid and
Defending champion Inter Milan, whose coach Jose Mourinho left to
join Madrid after May’s final, will play Werder Bremen, Tottenham and FC
in Group A.
Bayern Munich, last season’s losing finalist, was drawn with
AS Roma, FC Basel and Cluj in Group E.
Barcelona will be hoping to avoid
losing to Rubin Kazan for a second straight season.
The 2009 champions
were drawn with the Russian club in Group D alongside Panathinaikos and
Premier League champion Chelsea will also be traveling to
Russia, to face Spartak Moscow. Marseille and newcomer Zilina are also
Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson will be reunited with Rangers,
which he played for in the 1960s.
Valencia and Bursaspor of Turkey make
up Group C.
Arsenal will face former striker Eduardo da Silva when it
plays Shakhtar Donetsk, while FC Braga of Portugal and Partizan Belgrade
complete Group H.AP contributed to this report