Maccabi Tel Aviv dealt daunting yet fair draw

In rare group-stage waters, yellow-and-blue still clear underdog among Chelsea, Porto, Kiev.

Maccabi Tel Aviv teammates celebrating their club’s progress to the Champions League group stage, August 25, 2015 (photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Maccabi Tel Aviv teammates celebrating their club’s progress to the Champions League group stage, August 25, 2015
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Maccabi Tel Aviv was handed an intriguing draw on Thursday after ending its 11-year wait to reach the Champions League, being placed with Chelsea, Porto and Dynamo Kiev in Group G.
After overcoming FC Basel on away goals in the second leg of the playoffs on Tuesday to cap a remarkable qualifying run, Maccabi was delighted to simply be in Monaco for Thursday’s draw.
The yellow-and-blue would have been a firm underdog in any group and doesn’t have a realistic chance of finishing among the group’s top two, which will advance to the last 16.
English champion Chelsea is among the favorites to win the competition, while Porto reached the quarterfinals last season, although it was beaten to the Portuguese league title by Benfica.
Kiev regained the Ukrainian league title after six years last season and is also back in the Champions League group stage for the first time since 2009.
With a place in the top two likely out of reach, Maccabi will aim to at least finish in third place and continue to the Europa League round-of-32.
“We have a tough Champions League group. We respect our opponents, but we’ll give our best on every pitch,” Maccabi coach Slavisa Jokanovic wrote on Twitter. “It’ll be a pleasure to go back to London to face my former club Chelsea. It’ll be a special game.”
Jokanovic was a Chelsea player between 2000 and 2002.
Maccabi’s only previous appearance in the group stage was in the 2004/05 season, with Hapoel Tel Aviv the last Israeli team to qualify for the group stage in 2010/11.
This is the fifth time an Israeli team will play in the group stage, with Maccabi Haifa doing so twice (2002/03, 2009/10).
Tel Aviv has guaranteed itself a massive payday worth over NIS 80 million, NIS 54 million from UEFA prize money alone, with the club set to make around another NIS 30 million from ticket sales, sponsorships and merchandising.
Maccabi will also generate extra income by hosting its home matches at Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa, which can seat 30,000 fans compared to just over 13,000 at Bloomfield.
Every point in the group stage will also be extremely valuable, with each win to be worth another 1.5 million euros from UEFA and a draw 500,000 euros.
Group D appears by far the toughest with Juventus, Manchester City, Sevilla and Borussia Moenchengladbach.
In Group A, PSG will face Real Madrid, Sweden’s Malmo and Shakhtar Donetsk. Arsenal, taking part in the group stage for the 18th season in a row, faces fivetime champion Bayern Munich in Group F along with Dinamo Zagreb and Olympiakos.
Holder Barcelona takes on Bayer Leverkusen, BATE Borisov and AS Roma in Group E. Astana, the first team from Kazakhstan to reach this stage of the competition, was drawn in Group C alongside Benfica, Atletico Madrid and Galatasaray.
Manchester United, PSV Eindhoven, VfL Wolfsburg and CSKA Moscow were drawn in Group B while Zenit St Petersburg will meet Valencia, Olympique Lyonnais and Ghent in Group H.