Soccer Comment: Beersheba happy with repeat title, still hungry for more

Hapoel Beersheba coach Barak Bachar (photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Hapoel Beersheba coach Barak Bachar
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
With a second straight Premier League championship officially secured, Hapoel Beersheba can turn its full focus to the next big goal – reaching the Champions League group stage for the first time in club history.
Beersheba clinched its second league title in a row on Saturday with a 2-1 win at Maccabi Tel Aviv, opening an 11-point gap at the top over the yellow-and-blue with only nine points left to play for.
After relatively minor spontaneous celebrations in Netanya on Saturday, Beersheba will receive the championship shield and hold the official festivities after next Monday’s home game against Maccabi Petah Tikva at Turner Stadium.
The club’s professional staff already began preparing for next season long ago, but they will now turn their full attention to achieving the target set by owner Alona Barkat for 2017/18.
Beersheba came within a single goal of reaching the group stage this season, almost overturning a 5-2 first-leg defeat to Celtic of Scotland in the playoffs before ultimately settling for a 2-0 win in the return leg and a place in the Europa League.
Beersheba bounced back to stunningly finish ahead of both Inter Milan and Southampton to advance to the round-of-32 before being knocked out by Besiktas of Turkey.
The vast majority of players who took part in that successful campaign will be back next season, with Beersheba also aiming to make several new signings.
Miguel Vitor, Anthony Nwakaeme and John Ogu are all likely to attract interest from European clubs, but Beersheba has them under contract for 2017/18 and has no intention of releasing them.
The squad’s Israeli core is set to return for another year, although there remain question marks regarding the future of midfielder Maor Buzaglo. The 29-yearold was set to sign a lucrative deal in Turkey before suffering a knee injury last weekend that could sideline him for more than six months and end up keeping him in Beersheba.
Thanks to last season’s run in Europe, Beersheba significantly improved its UEFA ranking, meaning it will be seeded when it gets its campaign underway in the second qualifying round in July.
However, Beersheba is not likely to be seeded in the third qualifying round assuming it advances, with the likes of Celtic, Olympiacos and Red Bull Salzburg all potential opponents.
Matters will not get any easier in the final playoff round, but Barkat is determined to go one step further than this season and is willing to make an additional investment to do so.
“I can’t stop thinking about the Champions League anthem,” said Barkat. “I want to experience that again next season...We have a good squad and we will strengthen it where necessary.”