Euro Soccer: Maccabi Haifa faces trip to Belfast

Haifa will host the Northern Ireland champion at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium on July 15.

Maccabi Haifa 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Maccabi Haifa 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Maccabi Haifa was drawn to face Northern Ireland's Glentoran in the Champions League second qualifying round in Nyon, Switzerland, on Monday, the first of three ties the Israeli champion will have to come through if it is to progress to the competition's group stage. Haifa, which was the first Israeli side to reach the Champions League group stage in the 2002/03 season, will host the Northern Ireland champion at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium on July 15, with the return leg to be played at The Oval in Belfast a week later. Haifa and Glentoran have met once before, with Maccabi claiming a 3-1 aggregate victory in the European Cup Winners Cup qualifying round in the 1998/99 season, but not before some tense moments in the second leg at Kiryat Eliezer. "We are facing the Northern Ireland champion and this is a tough draw," said Haifa goalkeeper Nir Davidovich, attempting to hide the fact that Haifa will be a massive favorite to advance. "I remember when we played them 11 years ago and they were a difficult opponent to crack. I'm happy European soccer is returning to Kiryat Eliezer and I hope that with the help of our wonderful fans we will advance to the third qualifying round." Haifa coach Elisha Levy was adamant Glentoran can not be underestimated. "Don't call them semi-professionals or amateurs, this is a strong physical team," Levy said. "I'm pleased we are playing the first leg at home. That will give us an opportunity to open up a cushion for the return leg." Glentoran is currently coached by former Northern Ireland international Alan McDonald and last season won its 23rd league title after a three year drought. The club's best achievement in European competition was to reach the quarterfinals of the Cup Winners Cup, but that was some 35 years ago. Also Monday, Maccabi Netanya and Bnei Yehuda were drawn in the second and first qualifying rounds of the new Europa League, the competition replacing the UEFA Cup. Netanya will visit Malta's Sliema Wanderers on July 16 and will host the return leg a week later. "We will have to get to know our opponent," new Netanya coach Nati Azariya said. "I'm pleased we're playing the first leg on the road and that the tie will be decided in Israel." Bnei Yehuda will visit Simurq PFC of Azerbaijan in the first leg of the first qualifying round next Thursday, with the return leg to be played at Bloomfield a week later on July 9. "I hope to learn as much as possible about Simurq in the coming days," Bnei Yehuda coach Guy Luzon said. "We respect every opponent but our goal is to reach the competition's group stage." Hapoel Tel Aviv will enter the Europa League in its third qualifying round. The third qualifying round will be followed by a two-legged playoff stage from which the winners will advance to the group stage. In other Israeli soccer news, Pini Balili moved from Sivasspor to Antalyaspor in the Turkish league. The former Israel international will be joining his fourth Turkish team, after previously playing for Kayserispor and Istanbulspor. Meanwhile, Ben Sahar completed his move to Spanish club Espanyol on Monday, leaving Chelsea for a four-year contract in Barcelona. Draws: Partizan to Wales; Galatasaray heads east NYON, Switzerland (AP) - Former European Cup runner-up Partizan Belgrade will head to Wales in its quest for a place in the Champions League group stage, while one-time UEFA Cup winner Galatasaray travels to Kazakhstan in the rebranded Europa League. The draw Monday for Europe's two premier club competitions featured none of the biggest teams from the top leagues, with only sides playing in the first two rounds of each competition involved. Lyon, which narrowly lost the French league after winning seven straight titles, and England's fourth-placed team Arsenal await in the Champions League third round. Serie A's Roma will join the less celebrated Europa League at the same stage. Teams from Andorra, San Marino, Malta and Montenegro will kick off the Champions League on July 14-15, with return legs a week later. The competition will expand in the second round on July 29-30 and Aug. 5-6 when 1966 runner-up Partizan plays Welsh side Rhyl and Croatia's Dinamo Zagreb faces Pyunik of Armenia. FC Copenhagen, Salzburg, Wisla and Maccabi Haifa will also be in action. Galatasaray, which beat Arsenal to win the 2000 UEFA Cup, will start in the second round of the competition now called the Europa League with a home-and-away match against Kazakhstan's Tobol. Swiss club Basel will meet Santa Coloma of Andorra, Dutch side NAC will face Gandzasar of Armenia, and 1986 European champion Steaua Bucharest will play Hungarian team Ujpest. The Europa League final will be played May 12 in Hamburg, Germany. The Champions League decider will take place 10 days later in the Spanish capital of Madrid.