Euro Soccer: Betar draws Polish champ Krakow

Schum's side to play for place in Champions League final qualifying round.

betar 298.88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
betar 298.88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Betar Jerusalem will play Polish champion Wisla Krakow over two legs in the second qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League at the end of this month as it begins its bid to advance to the all important group stage. While there are no easy games at this level of European competition, it was a relatively easy draw for the Israeli champs. Jerusalem avoided far more dangerous sides with a depth of European experience including Turkey's Fenerbahce and Greece's Panathinaikos when the draw was made at UEFA headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland, on Tuesday afternoon. Also Tuesday, two of the three Israeli teams playing in the UEFA Cup found out the identity of their European opponents. Ironi Kiryat Shmona, which finished third in its first campaign in the top-flight last season, will face FK Mogren of Montenegro while State Cup runner up Hapoel Tel Aviv plays San Marino's AC Juvenes Dogana. Maccabi Netanya, which finished second in the league, will play in the second qualifying round of the UEFA Cup, for which the draw will be made later this month. The first leg of Betar's game will be held in Poland on 29 or 30 July with the home leg at Teddy Stadium on August 5 or 6. After winning the Israeli Premier League for the second consecutive year back in May, Jerusalem will be aiming to improve on last year's showing in the same stage of the Champions League when it lost out to FC Copenhagen in extra time after the aggregate score was tied after 180 minutes. Betar Jerusalem midfielder Michael Zandberg admitted it won't be easy. "This is a difficult draw. I don't really know much about this team [Krakow], but I know that that Polish football is very tough and technical and it is at a higher level than ours," he told the official Betar Web site, before adding that "every draw that we could have got would have been difficult." Wisla is one of the veterans of the Polish league, having been founded in 1902. It ran away with the Orange Ekstraklase title last year, beating second-placed Legia Warsaw by 14 points. Just as Betar has strengthened its squad over the summer with the signings of midfielder Moshe Ohayon from Ashdod SC and striker Sebastian Abreu from River Plate, Krakow has also brought in some new names. Slovakian defender Peter Singlar will bring some extra strength to a defense that already includes Polish league foreign player of the year, the Brazilian Cleber Guedes de Lima. Star striker Pawel Brozek, the top scorer in the Polish league last season, signed a two year contract extention as did captain Arkadiusz Glowacki. The club has plenty of European experience. Last season it made it to the group stage of the UEFA Cup where it lost to Feyenoord, Blackburn and Nancy but beat FC Basel. Two years ago Krakow played Real Madrid in the third qualifying round of the Champions League but lost 5-1 on aggregate to the Spanish superpower. But, despite this success, the club is said to be concerned about playing Betar. The team's management sees the Israelis as the strongest of all the unseeded teams and is also believed to be worried about the hot weather in Jerusalem. In the UEFA Cup, meanwhile, Kiryat Shmona's new coach Michel Dayan said he will take time to learn about Mogren, which finished third in the Montenegran league and won the cup. "We can not talk too deeply about the club we were drawn against," Dayan said. "We will learn about them in the coming days." While Hapoel Tel Aviv and Kiryat Shmona will be satisfied with the draws they will do well to look back to the experiences of Israeli clubs in Europe last season. Maccabi Tel Aviv was knocked out of the second qualifying round by Turkish second division side Erciyesspor after losing the first leg of the first round Andorrans Santa Coloma, and Maccabi Haifa lost to Romanian minnows FC Gloria Bistrata in the Intertoto Cup. Hapoel Tel Aviv had a good run in the UEFA Cup where it made it to the group stages before capitulating in nearly all of its games. On Tuesday Netanya's new coach Lothar Matthaus arrived in Israel and was welcomed at Ben Gurion airport by around 20 fanatical supporters. Although he signed a contract with Netanya earlier this summer, Matthaus had recently been linked with the vacant coaching position at the Ghana national team. "I know the fans want the championship but this won't be easy. We need to work hard for this," Matthaus said on his arrival. "I do not know what will happen in the future, but I am happy to begin my work here in Israel at Maccabi Netanya."