Hap TA awaits identity of next foes

Reds revel in victory over Salzburg ahead of today’s group stage draw.

311_Hapoel TA at Bloomfield (photo credit: Associated Press)
311_Hapoel TA at Bloomfield
(photo credit: Associated Press)
After its dramatic progress to the Champions League group stage, Hapoel Tel Aviv is eagerly anticipating the outcome of Thursday’s draw in Monaco to discover which of Europe’s big names it will be facing next.
Hapoel will likely be a fourth seed in the draw, although if two of the following teams – Tottenham, Zenit St. Petersburg or Copenhagen – failed to make it through the playoff round late Wednesday night, the Israeli champion will find itself in a pot with the third seeds.
Regardless, Tel Aviv, which claimed a 4-3 aggregate victory over Red Bull Salzburg in the playoffs after a 1-1 draw at Bloomfield Stadium on Tuesday night, is set to face some of the continent’s most illustrious clubs.
The first seeding pot will include European champion Inter Milan, Barcelona, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, AC Milan , Bayern Munich and Lyon.
The second seeding pot features such giants as Real Madrid and AS Roma, as well as the likes of Werder Bremen, Valencia and Marseille.
Even the third seeding pot has teams of the stature of Glasgow Rangers and Panathinaikos, meaning Hapoel will be drawn to play two if not three of the continent’s most prestigious sides over the next three months.
“This is a realization of a dream,” Hapoel coach Eli Gutman said.
“This is the happiest moment of my career. This is a proud day not only for our club but for Israeli soccer as a whole. It is not a given that an Israeli club has reached the group stage of the Champions League for a second straight year.”
However, unlike Maccabi Haifa, which last season became the first team in Champions League history to end the group stage without taking a point or scoring a goal, Hapoel is confident it can prove its worth against Europe’s best, with club part-owner Moni Harel even claiming the team can reach the quarterfinals.
“I believe we will represent Israeli soccer with honor,” Gutman said. “We are happy to be in the group stage, but we are not settling for this.”
Hapoel’s progress to the group stage guarantees it 7.1 million euros and that’s without taking into account the income it will generate from ticket sales from its three home matches and from TV revenue.
Part of that money is set to go to strengthening Gutman’s short squad, with Ashdod SC striker Idan Shriki, Betar Jerusalem forward Toto Tamuz and former Hapoel midfielder Salim Toama the early favorites to join the team.
Hapoel is also awaiting UEFA’s decision on whether it will be allowed to host the group games at Bloomfield.
The club received compliments from UEFA representatives for the organization of Tuesday’s match, but in all likelihood European soccer’s governing body is set to decide that Tel Aviv will have to host its group games at National Stadium in Ramat Gan as that is the only soccer arena in Israel which meets UEFA’s strict criteria.
“After taking the Premier League and State Cup double last season, reaching the Champions League group stage is a bonus,” Hapoel midfielder Gili Vermut said. “We will be playing without pressure and I hope that proves to be an advantage.”