Maccabi Haifa will have their work cut out to progress beyond the Champions League group stage having been drawn to face Bayern Munich, Juventus and Bordeaux.
The Israeli champions – who qualified for the group stage with a 5-1 aggregate victory over Red Bull Salzburg – start their group campaign by hosting Bayern on September 15. Although missing out on the Bundesliga title last season, Germany’s richest club reached the Champions League quarter-finals and include French megastar Franck Ribery among a formidable line-up.
Bayern general manager Uli Hoeness said it would be foolish to underestimate Maccabi, given their impressive performance in qualification. “It’s a very tough group with strong opponents who will test us to our limits.”
At Bordeaux, coach Laurent Blanc described Maccabi as “a bit of an unknown”. The Israelis visit the French champions on September 30 before travelling to Turin to play Juventus on October 21. Runners-up in Serie A last season, the Italians have added Brazilian stars Felipe Melo and Diego to a squad still featuring long-serving keeper Gianluigi Buffon and evergreen striker Alessandro Del Piero. Maccabi will then host Juventus before travelling to Munich and end the group stage with a home game against Bordeaux on December 8.
Striker Shlomi Arbeitman believes Maccabi can spring a surprise. “We are excited to be facing the likes of Bayern, Juventus and Bordeaux but we have a great coach in Elisha Levy who knows how to get us ready,” he said. “Why shouldn’t we think positive? If Haifa managed to beat Manchester United and Olympiacos in 2002/03, we can beat any team. Don’t rule us out too early.”
The top two in the group progress to the final 16 with the third-placed team being put through to the latter stages of the Europa League, in which Everton and Fulham are flying the flag for the Premier League following Aston Villa’s elimination.