Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Tel Aviv will have every chance of advancing to the
knockout stages of the Europa League, while Maccabi Tel Aviv will be hoping to
avoid last place in its group following Friday’s draw for the competition’s
group stage in Monaco.
For the first time ever, Israel has three
representatives in the group stages of soccer’s continental competitions after
Hapoel Tel Aviv and Maccabi Tel Aviv clinched their Europa League playoff ties
on Thursday night, while Haifa was granted its berth following its exit to KRC
Genk in the Champions League playoffs last week.
Haifa was placed in
Group J with Schalke 04 of Germany, Roni Levy’s Steaua Bucharest and AEK Larnaca
of Cyprus, and although the Germans are the clear favorites to win the group,
the Greens will be confident of battling it out for second place, which also
ensures progress to the round of 32.
Hapoel will face Dutch giant PSV
Eindhoven, Rapid Bucharest and Legia Warsaw in Group C, while Maccabi Tel Aviv
will play Dynamo Kiev, Besiktas JK of Turkey and Stoke City in Group
Group games will be played from September 15 until December 15, with
the top two teams in each group to be joined in the knockout phase by the
third-placed finishers in the Champions League groups.
“Schalke is a
strong and attractive team and Steaua is also good and is especially interesting
because Roni Levy will be coming back to Haifa,” Greens coach Elisha Levy
“I hope we can host our matches at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium and we
are making great efforts so that will be the case.
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We will be fighting
Steaua for second position, but it is never easy at this stage of the
Schalke, which faced Hapoel Tel Aviv in the Champions
League last season before falling to Manchester United in the semifinals, has
lost goalkeeper Manuel Neuer to Bayern Munich, but it still holds a deep and
impressive squad, and despite only ending last season in 14th position, is
playing in Europe once more by virtue of winning the German cup.
Levy joined Steaua earlier this summer and guided it to the Europa League group
stage with a 3-1 aggregate win over CSKA Sofia, drawing 1-1 on the road on
Larnaca, coached by former Betar Jerusalem and Maccabi Tel Aviv
boss Ton Caanen, reached the group stage of a European competition for the first
time in its history thanks to Thursday’s 2-1 win over Norway’s Rosenborg
following a 0-0 draw on the road.
“I had a feeling I would face an
Israeli team and it’s amazing it actually happened,” said Levy, who coached
Haifa for five seasons, leading it to three straight championships
“At least I won’t need any scouting services.”
thrashed Lithuanian champion FK Ekranas 4-0 at Bloomfield Stadium on Thursday to
complete a 4-1 aggregate victory and will be optimistic of making it through to
the knockout stages for the second time in three years after losing to Rubin
Kazan in the round of 32 in 2009/10.
“We got a reasonable draw, although
there are no easy games in the group stage of the Europa League,” midfielder
Salim Toama said. “We had a wonderful European campaign with Dror Kashtan 10
years ago when we reached the quarterfinals of the UEFA Cup and I hope we can
repeat that this season.”
Eindhoven only finished third in local league
play in 2010/11, but the Dutch powerhouse is always dangerous, reaching the
quarterfinals of the Europa League last season.
Rapid Bucharest made the
group stage with a 4-2 aggregate win over Slask Wroclaw of Poland, while Legia
Warsaw, for which Israeli Moshe Ohayon plays, did so by coming back from two
goals down to stun Spartak Moscow 3-2 on the road for a 5-4 aggregate
Maccabi Tel Aviv would have loved to swap places with its arch-rival
after discovering its prize for knocking out Panathinaikos in the playoffs,
winning 4-2 on aggregate after a 2-1 loss in Athens on Thursday.
yellow-and-blue faces an uphill battle against all three of its
Dynamo Kiev, led by striker Andriy Shevchenko, has lost out to
Shakhtar Donetsk in the Ukrainian league in recent seasons, but it is still an
Heavy-spending Besiktas boasts the likes of Guti and
Simao, while Stoke has all the quality of a mid-table English Premier League
team, finishing in 13th place last season and qualifying for Europe by reaching
the FA Cup final in which it lost to Manchester City.
“We are delighted
to have made it through to the group stage,” Maccabi coach Moti Ivanir said upon
his team’s arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport on Friday.
“Our players are
hungry for success and they will remain modest. Our next target is Monday’s
match against Ashdod.”
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