The Israel soccer league season may have just come to an end and while we are in the midst of the European Championships that are going on in 11 different countries, UEFA held the first and second round draws for the Champions League and the newly formed Conference League.
Maccabi Haifa, Maccabi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Beer Sheva and FC Ashdod were all drawn into the respective European competitions this week as they found out who their rivals will be when qualifying kicks off in July.
Each season the Israeli champion earns a spot in Champions League qualification and this year is no different as Maccabi Haifa under the tutelage of head coach Barak Bachar will be the country’s lone hope to reach European glory. Bachar, who recently signed a one-year contract extension will see his Greens face Kairat Almaty in the first round of qualifying.
Kairat is a familiar foe for Israeli clubs as both Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Beer Sheva played the Kazakhstan based club in Europa League qualifying over the past few years. Based in the city of Almaty which borders Kyrgyzstan, Kairat has never advanced to the group stages of European competition and features veteran Brazilian striker Vagner Love.
Should Haifa make it past Kairat, Serbian powerhouse Red Star Belgrade will be waiting for them in the second round. Should they not advance past Kairat, the Greens would drop down to the second round of Conference League qualifying. Haifa is slated to play Kairat in the two legged tie on July 6-7 and with the return match taking place on July 13-14.
Maccabi Tel Aviv will begin Conference League qualifying in the second round with a date against the winner of the FC Gagra and FK Sutjeska Nikšić first round matchup. Garga, which is based in Tbilisi, Georgia are making only their second foray into European qualifying after winning the Georgian Cup this past season.
Sutjeska Nikšić from Montenegro have been participating in continental play since 2003 have never kicked off against an Israeli foe. To date, the yellow-and-blue have not yet announced that head coach Patrick van Leeuwen will continue on in the position although it is expected that he will for the upcoming campaign.
Hapoel Beer Sheva were drawn against Arda from Bulgaria in the second round of Conference League qualifying and are making their European debuts after finishing in fourth place in their domestic league. Roni Levy is still in the midst of building their squad for the upcoming campaign and it is still unknown if the club’s Portuguese superstar Josue will continue with the club.
At the port city of Ashdod, Ran Ben Shimon’s team will have to get by Qarabag in the second round of Conference League qualifying. The Azerbaijani club is a veteran of European soccer and played in the Europa League group stages just last season against fellow Israeli outfit Maccabi Tel Aviv.
All second round Conference League ties will take place on July 22 and July 29.