Maccabi Haifa to face Bosnia in bid for Champions League

First up for Haifa in CL qualifiers: Bosnian champion Banja Luka

Maccabi Haifa 311 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Maccabi Haifa 311
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Maccabi Haifa’s campaign to reach the Champions League group stage for the second time in three years will begin next month against Bosnian champion FK Borac Banja Luka.
After becoming the first team in competition history to end the group stage without collecting a point or scoring a goal in 2009/10, Haifa will be desperate to improve this time around, but it will first need to come through three qualifying rounds, starting with Banja Luca in three weeks time.
“There is no such thing as an easy draw,” said Haifa coach Elisha Levy, who guided the Greens to the Premier League championship last season for the second time in his three years at the club. “We will learn about our opponent and we will do whatever it takes to progress to the next round.”
Banja Luka won its first ever Bosnian championship last season and was knocked out by Swiss club Lausanne- Sport in the second qualifying round of the Europa League in its only European tie in the last 20 years.
Haifa, which will be among the seeds throughout the competition’s qualifiers, was drawn Monday in Nyon, Switzerland to host the first leg against the Bosnians on July 12/13 before visiting Banja Luka the following week.
Also Sunday, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Bnei Yehuda discovered the identity of their first opponents in continental competition in the coming season.
Maccabi will face Xäzär Länkäran FK of Azerbaijan in the second qualifying round of the Europa League, playing the first leg on the road on July 14 and hosting the second leg a week later, while Bnei Yehuda and new coach Yossi Abuksis will come up against UE Sant Julià of Andorra.
“This is a challenging draw,” Maccabi coach Moti Ivanir said. “They were the runners-up in their league last season and we will learn all about them so that we can start this campaign on the right foot.”
With both Maccabi and Bnei Yehuda drawn to host the return leg, one of the ties will have to be changed – both will not be able to play at Bloomfield Stadium on the same day.
“We have seen in the past how teams that seem weak on paper surprise you in the match itself,” said Abuksis, who was set to replace Eli Gutman as coach of Hapoel Tel Aviv earlier this month, but ended up joining Bnei Yehuda after Hapoel decided to bring in Dror Kashtan instead.
Hapoel Tel Aviv will start its Europa League campaign in the third qualifying round.