Mac TA given tough obstacle in road to Champions League

Maccabi Tel Aviv was handed the one opponent it was hoping to avoid in the Champions League second qualifying round draw: Gyori ETO.

June 24, 2013 23:00
3 minute read.
MACCABI TEL AVIV coach Paulo Sousa surely isn't pleased with Champion's league draw.

MACCABI TEL AVIV coach Paulo Sousa 370. (photo credit: Adi Avishai)

Maccabi Tel Aviv was handed the one opponent it was hoping to avoid in the Champions League second qualifying round draw on Monday, being paired with Hungarian champion Gyori ETO at UEFA headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland.

Maccabi, which won its first Israeli championship after 10 barren years last season, was seeded in the draw and could have faced the likes of Hafnarfjördur of Iceland or Fola Esch of Luxembourg.

However, the yellow-andblue’s progress to the third qualifying round is far from a given against Gyori, which ended a 30-year wait for the Hungarian top-flight title last season, clinching the championship with three matches to spare.

The first leg between the two sides will be played in Hungary on either the 16th or 17th of July, with the return leg a week later in Israel.

“It’s a very tough draw against a strong side I know quite well. Gyori has had the same coach at the helm for the past three years and he has succeeded in molding the club to his brand of football,” new Maccabi coach Paulo Sousa told the club’s official website.

“I look forward to returning to the country where I coached Videoton for two seasons and I hope the success I achieved there will provide the impetus to qualify for the next round.”

After spending short stints at QPR, Swansea City and Leicester City in the English Championship, the 42-year-old Sousa moved on to then-Hungarian champion Videoton in the 2011/12 season. He ended his only full season at the club in the runners-up position before guiding the team to the Europa League group stage at the start of the 2012/13 campaign.

Four months later in January of this year he left the club, stating personal reasons.

“We have the greatest respect for our opponents and we’ll be getting started right away with studying the club so we can prepare ourselves properly,” added Maccabi’s sports director, Jordi Cruyff.

Should Maccabi overcome Gyori it will at least guarantee itself a place in the final playoff round of the Europa League, even if it fails in the third qualifying round of the Champions League. In order to reach the group stage, Tel Aviv will need to come through the third qualifying round and the play-offs without being seeded.

Maccabi’s top scorer from last season, Eliran Atar, completed his move to French club Stade de Reims on Monday and Tel Aviv doesn’t plan to wait long to acquire a replacement.

Hapoel Tel Aviv striker Tal Ben-Haim emerged as a surprise candidate to fill Atar’s shoes on Monday. The yellowand- blue will have to strike a deal with Maccabi Petah Tikva, which will receive 75 percent of the proceeds from Ben-Haim’s next transfer.

The draw for the Europa League second qualifying round was also made on Monday, with Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Tel Aviv both receiving relatively comfortable opponents.

Haifa will play the winner of the first qualifying round tie between Sliema Wanderers of Malta and Khazar Lankaran of Azerbaijan.

“We will make the most of the fact that both teams will be playing each other to learn all we can about them,” Haifa coach Arik Benado told the club’s website.

Striker Shimon Abu Hazeira completed his transfer from Ironi Kiryat Shmona to Haifa on Monday, signing a four-year deal.

Hapoel will face Beroe Stara Zagora of Bulgaria in the second qualifying round, playing on the road in the first leg on July 18 before hosting the return leg a week later.

“As far as I’m concerned any draw we would have been given would have been tough,” said Hapoel coach Ran Ben-Shimon. “Our big challenge is to turn Hapoel into a strong side which will be able to handle all the challenges it faces.”

Hapoel Ramat Gan, which won the State Cup last season after being relegated to the National League, will begin its Europa League campaign in the third qualifying round.

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