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(photo credit: AP)
Hapoel Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa will be underdogs in the third round of the UEFA Cup after being drawn on Friday afternoon to face Glasgow Rangers and CSKA Moscow, respectively.
Hapoel will host Rangers at Bloomfield Stadium in the first leg on February 14 or 15, with Haifa traveling to Moscow to play CSKA. The following week, Tel Aviv will play the second leg in Glasgow and Haifa will host Moscow.
"This is the most reasonable draw we could have got," Hapoel coach Yitzhak Schum said. "I have a good history against Rangers. I've beaten them in the past when I was coach of Panathinaikos."
Rangers manager Paul Le Guen was content with the draw but nevertheless cautious over the pedigree of Hapoel. "It could have been worse, but it could have been better too," he said. "I know they are able to do well. They won against Paris Saint-Germain 4-2 in Paris and that is a sign of the quality of this team."
Rangers, who finished at the top of a UEFA Cup group that included Haifa, are third in the Scottish Premier League, a massive 16 points behind leaders and archrivals Celtic.
Le Guen admitted his knowledge of Hapoel was limited, but added, "We have time to learn about this team and we will watch games and videos. I am confident. It is extremely important to us that we're playing the second game at home."
Haifa will face its third Muscovite side in CSKA, after knocking out Torpedo in 1993 and losing to Lokomotiv in 1999. "This is a very difficult draw, but we didn't expect to get an easy opponent," Maccabi coach Roni Levy said. "We have plenty of time to learn about the [Russian team]. This is a very big challenge and we will do all we can to reach the last 16."
CSKA, which won the UEFA Cup in 2005, clinched its second consecutive domestic championship in November, as the new Russian season is set to begin in March. Moscow booked its place in the last 32 of the UEFA Cup after finishing third in the Champions League group that included Arsenal, Porto and Hamburg SV.
Haifa captain Yaniv Katan, who played for the club in its 3-0 loss to Lokomotiv seven years ago, feels his club got the worst possible draw.
"In February, it's very difficult to play in Russia because of the cold weather. CSKA is the toughest opponent we could have gotten. However, we're not giving up. We will be prepared for the first leg and try to complete the victory in Israel."