Israeli clubs ready to tackle Euro giants

September 10, 2009

Israeli fans are looking forward to a festival of European club football next week as Bayern Munich and Celtic visit the country.

Maccabi Haifa host the Germans at Ramat Gan on Tuesday in the first round of matches in Champions League Group A. Two days later, Celtic visit the Bloomfield Stadium to play Hapoel Tel Aviv in the inaugural game of the Europa Cup group stage.

Haifa have already sold 35,000 subscription tickets covering their home matches against Bayern, Juventus and Bordeaux. Bayern and Juventus last visited in 2004 when they played in the same Champions League group as Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Haifa manager Elisha Levy said that he aims to go one better than the Greens’ 2002 group stage performance when they beat Olympiakos and Manchester United to finish third and progress to the Uefa Cup. He said: “We see no reason why we should not perform very well in the Champions League. Bayern Munich are a strong team and we know them very well but I am not being over-ambitious when I say we can beat them.”

Levy gambled successfully on youth in the playoff round when Eyal Golosa, 17, and Mohammed Ghadir, 18, saw them past Red Bull Salzburg 5-1 on aggregate. Since then, he has bolstered his squad by signing three young players - Argentinean Jewish striker Eial Strahman, 20, from River Plate, Tiago Da Silva Dutra, 19, and Ali Ottman, 20.

In the Europa League, 2,000 Celtic fans are expected in Tel Aviv. Hapoel will be looking to improve on their 1999 Uefa Cup performance when they lost home and away to John Barnes’ Celtic for a 3-0 aggregate defeat. With Hamburg and Rapid Vienna Hapoel’s other groups opponents, boss Eli Guttman described it as “an attractive, Champions League-quality group. We will do everything possible to reach the next stage.” Referee Alon Yefet and five other Israeli officials will take charge of the Europa League match between Ajax and Timosoara, the first time that the official will also have assistants running the goallines.

Last updated: 11:49am, September 10 2009