Maccabi Tel Aviv, Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Beer Sheva find out their European Foes

Dov Halickman Photography

Maccabi Tel Aviv, Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Beer Sheva all found out who their first opponents will be when they begin their European campaigns in July at a draw that took place in Nyon, Switrzerland. Continental play will begin for Haifa and Beer Sheva on July 11th while Maccabi Tel Aviv will begin their qualification round on either July 23rd or 24th.

The yellow-and-blue take part in Champions League qualifying for the first time since 2015 and will enter the competition in the second round where they will meet the first round winner of the match between Astana and CFR Cluj. Maccabi Tel Aviv faced the Kazakhstan side in the Europa League Group Stages back in the 2017/18 season and fell twice to Astana.

There are number of familiar faces whom Maccabi may remember from their previous encounters, including striker Junior Kabananga, left defensive back Dmitri Shmoko and Marin Tomasov. However, Astana is now playing under the tutelage of Ukrainian coach Roman Hryhorchuk who took over in the summer of 2018 and are currently in first place in domestic league action after 16 games.

Ovidiu Hoban who once played for Hapoel Beer Sheva now plies his trade for Cluj from Romania which is coached by Dan Petrescu. The boss had an illustrious career as a player featuring for a number of top European clubs including Chelsea where he featured between 1995-2000. Cluj won their league title after a tight battle with Steaua București and won the championship by just two points.

Maccabi Haifa will open up their European journey with a UEFA Europa League first round date against NS Mura of Slovenia. This will be the first time the Greens will take part in continental play since 2016/17 when they were eliminated by Estonian outfit Nõmme Kalju FC. Marko Balbul will begin the season coaching Haifa and is still building his squad for the upcoming campaign.

NS Mura is a relatively new team founded back in 2013/14 and quickly moved up from the lower divisions to Slovenian PrvaLiga. They will be making their first foray into European football earning the right by finishing fourth in their domestic league.

Coach Ante Šimundža manned the sidelines for Maribor a few years ago when Haifa star Sinteyahu Sallalich won the championship with the Slovenian side in 2014 and 2015. Another interesting twist is that while guiding Maribor, Simundza eliminated Maccabi Tel Aviv in Champions League qualifying in 2014.

After three seasons in Champions League qualifying, Hapoel Beer Sheva dropped to Europa League qualifying after finishing in third place in the Israel Premier League. Barak Bachar’s first round opponent will be KF Laci from Albania who ended their domestic campaign in 6th place. Veteran Albanian coach Sulejman Starova’s side earned a ticket to European play due to the 4th place club Skënderbeu Korçë being banned from all UEFA competitions and 5th place side Flamurtari not being able to receive a license to participate in continental play.

This will be the sixth time that Laci has been in the Europa League qualifying rounds this past decade but was only able to advance past the first round once. That occurred last season when they advanced over Anorthosis Famugusta from Cyprus then coached by the now Beitar Jerusalem boss Roni Levy.

Beer Sheva has played in the Europa League Group Stages two of the last three seasons and hosted the likes of Italian giant Inter Milan, English Premier League side Southampton and advanced to the Round of 32 in 2017 where they were eventually eliminated by Istanbul based Besiktas. Last season Bachar’s charges were bounced in the third round of qualifying by APOEL Nicosia and will look to find a way to once again feature in the competition.