Sinai Says: Betar will battle history, as well as Krakow, tonight

The European resume of Betar is quite simply dwarfed by those of Maccabi Haifa, Hapoel Tel Aviv and Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Of Israel's big four soccer clubs, Betar Jerusalem is the least successful in European action. In fact, even Maccabi Petah Tikva has done better than Betar in UEFA competitions. The two-time reigning Israeli champion has embarrassingly failed to record a single significant victory in continental play. The European resume of Betar is quite simply dwarfed by those of Maccabi Haifa, Hapoel Tel Aviv and Maccabi Tel Aviv. Starting Wednesday, however, Betar will be looking to finally correct that wrong. A victory over Wisla Krakow at Teddy Stadium in the Champions League second qualifying round can be the first step in a campaign which the club is hoping will give it the one thing is still lacks, a European reputation. Betar's continental debut in the 1993/94 season was actually a success. The team defeated Moldovan side Zimbru Chisinau 3-1 on aggregate thanks to a 2-0 home victory and reached the first round of the fledgling Champions League. Polish side Lech Poznan awaited Jerusalem, but a 3-0 loss in the first leg ended its hopes of reaching the group stage and it would take another three years for Betar to return to the European stage. The club easily dispatched Maltese side Floriana FC 8-2 on aggregate in the first qualifying round of the UEFA Cup in the 1996/97 season and was brimming with confidence ahead of the second qualifying round tie against Norwegian club Bodo Glimt. All the Jerusalem players could talk about in the run-in to the first leg at Teddy was how they would thrash the Norwegian fishermen. Nothing could have been further from the truth, as the match against Bodo Glimt went down in history as one of the most embarrassing moments in Israeli soccer history. The "fishermen" demolished Betar 5-1 at Teddy, leaving a scar which will likely never heal. The following season the club was knocked out of the second qualifying round of the Champions League by Sporting Lisbon and weeks later also saw its UEFA Cup campaign end in the first round at the hands of Club Brugge. In the 1998/99 season, Betar added another humiliating European loss to the ever-growing list. The side was crushed 6-0 on the road by Portuguese giant Benfica, but would go on to record a 4-2 victory in the second leg at Teddy, which is only significant due to the fact that it was Jerusalem's last European home victory. In its five continental ties since, Betar drew all five of its home matches and, unsurprisingly, only managed to advance once, defeating FC WIT of Georgia 4-1 on aggregate in the 2000/01 season. Betar's poor run at Teddy will have to come to an end on Wednesday or yet another European campaign will likely finish prematurely. Jerusalem has been the cream of crop in the Israeli Premier League over the last two seasons, but, until its elusive search for European success comes to an end, the club will have to continue to look up at the likes of Maccabi Haifa, Hapoel Tel Aviv and Maccabi Tel Aviv. [email protected]