Hapoel TA to face Celtic, Hamburg, Rapid

Hapoel Tel Aviv faces an uphill battle to advance beyond the Europa League group stage after being drawn on Friday with Hamburg, Celtic and Rapid Vienna in Group C. Hapoel, which reached the group stage with a 3-2 aggregate victory over FK Teplice on Thursday, was placed in the third seeding pot on Friday and was done no favors by the draw, which took place in Monaco. Hamburg finished the Bundesliga in fifth position last season and has been in excellent form of late, winning four straight matches in all competitions. Scottish giant Celtic was only denied a place in the Champions League by Arsenal, while Rapid Vienna booked its place in the group stage by knocking out Aston Villa. "We will be playing in a Champions League caliber group," said Hapoel coach Eli Gutman. "At the moment, facing Hamburg is tougher than playing Bayern Munich, as the latter is struggling. All the teams in our group are attractive. Vienna beat Aston Villa and that speaks for itself." Despite the tough draw, Gutman is refusing to role out his team's chances of advancing. "We will fight," said the coach. "We have beaten two good teams so far and despite the fact that this is a completely different level, we will be aiming to win every match and finish among the top two to progress to the round of 32." Hapoel hosts Celtic on September 17 in its group opener, before traveling to Hamburg two weeks later. On October 22, Tel Aviv faces Rapid at Bloomfield Stadium ahead of two road matches at Vienna (November 5) and Glasgow (December 2). Hapoel will cap the group stage with a home match against Hamburg on December 17. Hamburg defeated German champion Wolfsburg 4-2 on the road last weekend and its deep roster includes Mladen Petric, Paolo Guerrero and Marcell Jansen, as well as new signings Ze Roberto and Marcus Berg. After three straight league titles, Celtic was overtaken by arch-rival Rangers last season, but has begun this season with two consecutive wins. In the Champions League playoffs, Celtic struggled against a superior Arsenal team, losing 2-0 at home and 3-1 at the Emirates Stadium. Rapid finished the Austrian league in second position last season, behind Red Bull Salzburg, which was easily beaten by Maccabi Haifa in the Champions League playoffs. However, Vienna caused one of the biggest shocks in the Europa League playoffs on Thursday, knocking out Aston Villa on away goals. "We knew we would be facing some top level teams and we were right," star midfielder Gili Vermut said. "This is a difficult draw, but we have proven our character by reaching the group stage and beating good opponents." Meanwhile, Bnei Yehuda coach remained positive on Friday, a day after seeing his team lose 1-0 at PSV Eindhoven to complete a 2-0 aggregate defeat in the Europa League playoffs. Luzon said his aim is to return to Europe and make another attempt to make it into the group stage.