Coulda, shoulda, woulda, didn’t. The collective groan from the sands of Tel Aviv must have been a pathetic sound to hear as the Champions League draw was announced in Monaco today. With all of the potential top-flight teams, there was hope that stars like Wayne Rooney, Lionel Messi, or Didier Drogba might be plying their trade on the pitch in Ramat Gan in a few weeks. Instead, Israeli soccer fans were rewarded with… Olympique Lyon, an elite French team. Granted, Lyon reached the Champions League semifinals last year, where they lost to Bayern Munich, but all in all it has to be considered a major disappointment.
But with this cloud there indeed comes a silver lining. Lyon, while talented, is not a star-studded outfit, and neither are Benfica (from Portugal) or Schalke (from Germany’s Bundesliga), the other teams in Group B. Schalke does, however, feature Raul, the eponymous striker from Spain who is one of the world’s top players. The path to qualification for the Round of 16 could have been much harder, so here’s hoping for continued overachieving by the boys in red. HaPoel must finish in first or second place to advance, and with a third place finish would qualify for the UEFA Europa League; anything would be better than Maccabi Haifa’s zero goals, zero points, last-place campaign in last year’s competition.
HaPoel opens Champions League group play September 14 at Benfica in Portugal, just a few days after Rosh HaShanah. Hopefully the new year of 5771 will open with great promise and some away points.