Maccabi TA draws Swiss giants in Champions qualifier

FC Basel to host the Israeli Premier League champs in Friday's third qualifying round match of the Champions League.

MACCABI TEL AVIV coach Paulo Sousa 370 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
MACCABI TEL AVIV coach Paulo Sousa 370
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Tel Aviv will have to do things the hard way if it’s to reach the Champions League group stage after once more being handed the one opponent it was hoping to avoid in Friday’s third qualifying round draw in Nyon, Switzerland.
Maccabi is set to face Swiss champion FC Basel, which reached the last 16 in 2011/12, assuming the yellow-and-blue doesn’t suffer a dramatic setback in the second leg of its second qualifying round tie versus Gyori ETO at Bloomfield Stadium on Tuesday.
Tel Aviv defeated Gyori 2-0 in Hungary in the first leg last week to take a massive step towards the next stage. However, matters could have been far more straightforward for Paulo Sousa’s men had they been handed an easier draw against the likes of Fola Esch of Luxembourg, and Maccabi was done no favors once more on Friday.
Basel has dominated the Swiss league in recent years, winning four straight championships, and has risen to prominence in Europe over recent seasons.
Basel, currently coached by Murat Yakin, defeated Manchester United 2-1 to progress to the last 16 of the Champions League at the expense of the English giant in 2011/12 before going on to defeat Bayern Munich 1-0, only to suffer a 7-0 humbling in the return leg.
Maccabi can perhaps draw some encouragement from the fact that Romanian champion CFR Cluj surprisingly knocked out Basel in the Champions League playoff round last season.
However, Yakin’s team showed its class by rebounding with a run to the Europa League semifinals, overcoming Tottenham Hotspur in the last eight before being ousted by Chelsea.
“Despite being drawn against Basel, we remain completely focused on overcoming Gyori,” said Sousa.
The first leg will take place in Switzerland on July 30/31, with the return leg to be played at Bloomfield the following week.
The winners in the third qualifying round will advance to a playoff for a Champions League group stage berth, while the losers will be handed a second chance in the Europa League playoffs.
All three Israeli sides in the Europa League were given favorable draw in the third qualifying round on Friday.
Hapoel Tel Aviv, which effectively secured its progress with a 4-1 win in Bulgaria over PFC Beroe in Thursday’s first leg, is set to face either Levadia Tallinn of Estonia or Pandurii Târgu Jiu of Romania, who drew 0-0 in their first leg in Estonia.
Maccabi Haifa has still got some work to do after defeating Xazar Lankaran of Azerbaijan 2-0 at home, but it will be extremely confident of booking a meeting with FK Ventspils of Latvia or Jeunesse Esch of Luxembourg in the third qualifying round, with the Latvians winning their first leg 1-0.
Hapoel Ramat Gan, which won the State Cup last season after being relegated to the National League, will begin its European adventure against GD Estoril- Praia of Portugal.