Maccabi Haifa 248.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Maccabi Haifa's Champions League dream was handed another boost on Friday when the team received a favorable draw in the third qualifying round of European soccer's premier competition.
Haifa effectively clinched its place in the third qualifying round with a 6-0 home win against Northern Ireland's Glentoran last week, and assuming it progresses safely in Belfast on Wednesday, it will likely next face Aktobe of Kazakhstan, which defeated FH HafnarfjÃ¶rdur of Iceland 4-0 in its first leg last week.
The third qualifying round is followed by a two-legged playoff, from which the winner will advance to the Champions League group stage.
Haifa was the first Israeli team ever to qualify for the group stage in 2002, with Maccabi Tel Aviv the only other Israeli team to repeat the accomplishment since, reaching the group stage in 2004.
Maccabi Haifa veteran defender Alon Harazi, who has announced that the upcoming season will be his last as a player, forward Yaniv Katan, and 'keeper Nir Davidovich were all members of the team that advanced in 2002.
"As soon as we complete our mission in Glentoran we will focus on the Kazakh team, which will surely be our next opponent," Haifa coach Elisha Levy said.
Maccabi captain Katan believes Aktobe will be no pushover.
"Aktobe won 4-0 on the road in its first leg, so clearly this is a good team," Katan commented.
The first leg will be played in Kazakhstan on July 29, with the return leg to be held at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium a week later.
Barring catastrophe, Aktobe will be progressing in European competition for the first time when it completes its aggregate victory over FH this week.
In the past three seasons the team was knocked out in the first qualifying round of both the Champions League and UEFA Cup.
Aktobe is the two-time defending Kazakh champion and is currently leading the local league standings.
The draw for the Europa League's third qualifying round was also held in Nyon, Switzerland, on Friday.
Despite being seeded, Hapoel Tel Aviv was drawn to play two-time UEFA Cup winner IFK Goteborg of Sweden.
Goteborg, which currently leads the Swedish league by one point, 14 matches into the season, will host the first leg on July 30, with the second leg to be played at Bloomfield Stadium the following week.
"This is a difficult draw, the toughest we could have received," Hapoel coach Eli Gutman said. "We have time to prepare and make sure we represent the club respectfully in European competition."
Maccabi Netanya also faces a tough proposition in the third qualifying round, assuming it overcomes Malta's Sliema Wanderers on Thursday.
Netanya is set to face Turkish giant Galatasaray, which is expected to defeat Tobol Kostanay of Kazakhstan in the second leg this week after drawing 1-1 on the road in the first leg.
Maccabi will play away from home in the first leg on July 30 and will host the return leg a week later.
Bnei Yehuda, which all but clinched its place in the third qualifying round with a 4-0 victory of Dinaburg FC of Latvia last Thursday, seems to have the best chance of making it through to the final qualification playoff and perhaps reaching the competition's group stage.
The team was drawn to face the winner of the tie between FC PaÃ§os de Ferreira of Portugal and FC Zimbru Chisinau of Moldova, which finished their first leg in Moldova in a 0-0 draw last week.
"Considering the other teams we could have received, this is a reasonable draw," Coach Guy Luzon said. "We are focusing on making sure we don't stumble in Latvia and we will learn all we can about our next opponent and we hope to continue and progress."