Israeli sides find out UEFA competition qualifying opponents

Jun 19, 2024 | Football

Israeli soccer clubs who will be participating in European competitions this coming season found out who they will be facing in their respective qualifying tournaments. Maccabi Tel Aviv, Maccabi Haifa, Maccabi Petach Tikva and Hapoel Beer Sheva will all look to wind their way through the qualifying rounds in order to punch their ticket to the brand new league phase of the UEFA Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference League.

The new league phase consists of 36 teams for each competition and teams will be drawn against eight different opponents with four games being played at home and four away for the Champions League and Europa League while the Conference League teams will play against six different opponents. At the end of the league teams 1-8 will automatically qualify for the round of 16 while teams 9-24 will face each other in a knockout playoff round to advance while teams 25-36 are eliminated from all competitions. In the knockout phase all ties are contested both home and away culminating in a one match final.

Maccabi Tel Aviv will participate in Champions League qualifying will look to advance to the league phase of the prestigious and lucrative competition for the first time since 2015 where they played the likes of Chelsea, Dynamo Kyiv and Porto.

The yellow-and-blue will begin qualifying in the second round where they will play the winner of the first round game between Virtus A.C. 1964 from San Marino and Fotbal Club FCSB of Romania with the former Steaua București being heavy favorites to advance and play Maccabi.

The first match of the second round will for Maccabi will be away from home on July 23/24 with the home leg the following week, however, due to the ongoing war that game will also take place on the road.

29 teams have already qualified for the league phase with seven places being up for grabs through the qualifying competition with 5 being through the champions route and two via the league route.

Fotbal Club FCSB was founded in 1947 and plays their games at the National Stadium in Bucharest. FCSB are considered to be the biggest club in Romania and has won the most league championships (27) and cups (24). In 1985/86 they won the European Championship before it was renamed the Champions League when they defeated Barcelona on penalties and were also runner-ups to AC Milan in 1988/89.

Last season, FCSB won the Romanian championship after an eight-year drought, when they took the league by 3-points over second place Cluj.

The Romanian champion is coached by the Cypriot Elias Charalambous and its biggest star is striker Florinel Coman, who finished as the league’s top scorer with 18 goals and added 9 assists. Another prominent player is Darius Olaru, who scored 15 goals and added 5 assists last season as both are currently part of Romania’s squad at the European Championships. In the back, 34-year-old Vlad Chiricheș, who played many seasons for some of the top teams in the continent including Tottenham and Napoli before returning home last summer.

Maccabi Haifa will take on a relative newcomer to European soccer in FC Sabah from Azerbaijan in Conference League second round qualifying with the home leg taking place July 25th with the retune leg slated for the next week in Baku. Sabah plays at the 13,000 seat Bank Respublika Arena which will not be an easy task for the Greens.

Sabah was established seven years ago and quickly moved into the first division where they have been one of the best teams in the country. Last season the club finished in third place and the year before they ended the campaign in second place which allowed them to compete in Europe for the first time when they made it to the third round of Conference League qualifying before being eliminated by Partizan Belgrade.

The team has foreigners from various different countries such as Nigeria, Brazil, Spain, Bosnia, Luxembourg, Morocco and Algeria while the head coach is the Croatian Krunoslav Rendulić. Sabah features some familiar names including Algerian striker Ishak Belfodil who played for Inter Milan Hoffenheim, Werder Bremen, Parma, Hertha Berlin and Lyon. Another player of interest is Nigerian winger Jesse Sekidika who was once considered to be a great talent and played in Benfica’s youth system and eventually featured for Galatasaray.

Hapoel Beer Sheva will also play in Conference League qualifying against Bulgarian outfit PFC Cherno More Varna who finished last season in third place of their domestic league just one point away from CSKA Sofia and 13 points off of first place Ludogorets. Cherno has captured four league titles over the course of their 111 year history with the most recent coming way back in 1938 with their last Cup and Super Cup having been won in 2015 which led to Europa League qualifying the following season.

In 2008/09, the Bulgarians played against Maccabi Netanya in the UEFA Cup qualifiers and passed the Diamond City squad 3-1 on aggregate in the two games that they played.

Cherno is coached by Bulgarian IIlian Iliev, who has been in the position for over six years and played at the Ticha Stadium in Varna in front of 12,000 fans. Defender Daniel Dimov who played for Maccabi Petah Tikva in 2014/15 captains Cherno while other notable names include right back Viktor Popov, midfielder Vasil Panayotov and attacking midfielder Frenchman Mazire Soula who finished the last season with eight assists.
 
Maccabi Petach Tikva last played in the group stages of European competition back in the 2005/06 UEFA Cup and the wait to feature in continental play may need to wait yet for another season as they will face Portuguese mainstays FC Braga who finished in fourth place in domestic league action.
 
Daniel Sousa was recently appointed as the club’s head coach after having worked for many years under André Villas-Boas and worked at Porto, Chelsea, Tottenham and Marseille among others before heading out on his own when he managed Gil Vincente in 2022/23 and Arouca this past season.

Braga plays in the 30,000 seat Municipal Stadium where Simon Banza starred having scored 23 goals while Álvaro Djaló added 16 markers and captain Ricardo Horta scored 13. In addition, 24-year-old Spanish striker Abel Ruiz who previously starred in Barcelona’s youth department is also on the squad. But the most recognizable name is no doubt veteran João Moutinho, who previously played for Porto, Monaco and Wolves.

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