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After winning a historic championship last season, Hapoel Beersheba, led by coach Barak Bachar (holding championship shield on the right) and captain Elyaniv Barda (holding shield on the left), begins its campaign to reach the Champions League group stage tonight at home against Moldovan side FC She.(Photo by: DANNY MARON)
Hap Beersheba kicks off continental quest
Israeli champion seeks to make statement in 1st Champions League qualifier vs Tiraspol.
After ending its 40-year wait for a Premier League championship, Hapoel Beersheba goes in search of further history when it opens its Champions League qualifying campaign on Tuesday night.

Beersheba will be playing in the Champions League qualifiers for the first time in club history when it hosts Moldovan champion FC Sheriff Tiraspol at Turner Stadium in the first leg of the second qualifying round.

Beersheba, who wasn’t seeded in the draw and was fortunate to avoid far trickier ties against Red Bull Salzburg and Dinamo Zagreb, will need to overcome three rounds of qualifiers in order to reach the prestigious group stage.

However, defeating Tiraspol will at least ensure Beersheba is handed a berth in the Europa League even should it be knocked out in the Champions League third qualifying round or playoffs.

A loss in the third qualifying round will give it a ticket to the Europa League playoffs, while a setback in the Champions playoffs will book its place in the Europa group stage.

An exit at the hands of Tiraspol though, will end Beersheba’s continental campaign in mid-July. Beersheba is playing in European competition for a third straight season, but it hasn’t won a tie in almost two decades.

The team was sent packing in the second qualifying round of the Europa League in each of the previous two seasons and will not be taking anything for granted against Sheriff, which has claimed 14 of the past 16 Moldovan championships.

“I don’t think it is right to talk about favorites,” said Beersheba coach Bachar.

“Hopefully we can get through this round because we are going to have a tough time afterwards as we are not seeded.

We want to continue the dream.”

Beersheba has managed the rare feat of holding on to its entire squad from last season, while bringing in Israel national team goalkeeper Guy Haimov, midfielder Yuval Shabtay from Hapoel Ra’anana and Portuguese defender Miguel Vitor, who played for PAO K Thessaloniki in the past three seasons.

Beersheba still intends to sign at least one more player, with the club currently negotiating with former Portugal international Hugo Almeida, who has made 57 appearances for his national team and played for Hannover in Germany last season.

“We have been working on bringing in new players since the end of last season,” explained Bachar. “We are taking our time on purpose as we want to make sure we bring in the right players that will help us improve. We already have an excellent squad here. We have many targets in the upcoming season, the first of which being to advance in Europe.”

Captain Elyaniv Barda has yet to win a European tie in three seasons at Beersheba, something he is hoping will change against Sheriff.

“An ambitious club like Beersheba wants to build a tradition in Europe,” said Barda. “We have been in Europe twice since I arrived here and have yet to progress once. We have a big squad, but if we do well in Europe there will be plenty of matches and a chance for everyone to play. We will be unseeded throughout the qualifiers so our first goal must be to win the championship again, but we also want to finally do well in Europe.”

On TV: Champions League second qualifying round first leg: Hapoel Beersheba vs FC Sheriff Tiraspol (live on ONE at 8:50 p.m.)

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