K8 draws Borisov in CL playoffs

Ironi Kiryat Shmona officially booked its place in the Champions League playoffs.

IRONI KIRYAT SHMONA coach Gili Landau 370 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
IRONI KIRYAT SHMONA coach Gili Landau 370
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Ironi Kiryat Shmona was handed the draw it was hoping for on Friday, being paired with BATE Borisov of Belarus in the Champions League playoffs, with the winner to advance to the prestigious group stage.
Celtic of Scotland, Anderlecht of Belgium and Basel of Switzerland were some of the other teams the Israeli champion could have faced, but while Kiryat Shmona will be delighted to have avoided the bigger names, it will still enter the tie against Borisov as a firm underdog.
Kiryat Shmona came through two rounds of qualifiers to reach this stage, beating MSK Zilina of Slovenia 2-1 on aggregate before overcoming Azerbaijan’s Neftci PFK 6-2 over two legs.
However, it faces an even tougher obstacle in Borisov, which is looking to reach the group stage for a second straight season.
Borisov, the six-time reigning Belarus champion, beat Vardar of Macedonia 3-2 on aggregate to progress to the playoffs.
“We know we could have received a tougher draw,” said Kiryat Shmona coach Gili Landau. “This is a difficult mission, but it is possible. Clearly a team which drew with AC Milan last season is a strong team.”
Kiryat Shmona will visit Minsk for the first leg on August 22, before hosting the return leg at National Stadium in Ramat Gan on August 28.
Even should Kiryat Shmona get knocked out in the playoff round, it has already guaranteed itself continental soccer deep into the winter as the losing teams in the 10 ties will progress automatically to the group stage of the Europa League.
Hapoel Tel Aviv’s hopes of reaching the group stage of the Europa League were handed a boost on Friday after the Reds were drawn to play F91 Dudelange of Luxembourg in the playoffs.
Dudelange stunned Red Bull Salzburg in the second qualifying round of the Champions League, but suffered a double defeat to Maribor of Slovenia in the subsequent round to drop to the Europa League and shouldn’t pose any real threat to Hapoel.
The first leg will take place at Bloomfield Stadium on August 23, with the second leg to be played in Luxembourg a week later.
“The level of play in Luxembourg is on the rise, but we want to build on Hapoel’s tradition of success in Europe and reach the group stage again,” said Hapoel coach Nitzan Shirazi.