As we take a deep breath between the phenomenal conclusion to the Women's World Cup last night and the kick-off of the CONCACAF Gold Cup tomorrow, let's take a quick peek across the pond(s) at what's cooking in Israeli sports.
Malta: The Quest Begins
The 2016 Champions League final will be held at the iconic San Siro in Milan next May, but from the shores of the Atlantic to the steppes of Central Asia, the qualification rounds are already underway. Israeli champion Maccabi Tel Aviv, fresh off their historic treble, enter the competition in the second qualification round with a home-and-away fixture against Maltese champion Hibernian. The two teams meet in Malta next Tuesday, with the return leg Tel Aviv on the 21st. Should Maccabi clear the first hurdle, they will need to win their third round matchup as well to make the final playoff for a coveted spot in the group stages.
A Snoozer in Shymkent
While the blue-and-yellow have another week of preseason training in Austria before the start their qualification quest, in the Europa League three Israeli teams are also in the mix. Last week, in Shymkent, Kazakhstan, Beitar Jerusalem, who earned the last European qualification spot for Israeli teams with their fourth-place finish in the league,
battled plodded their way to a 0-0 draw against their Kazakh hosts; I watched game live on YouTube, so I mean that comment in the worst way. The return leg will be at Teddy Stadium this week. Also in second round qualifying, Hapoel Be’er Sheva faces off against Swiss side Thun on July 16 in Jerusalem and July 23 in Switzerland, and Hapoel Kiryat Shmonah will join the qualification campaign in the third round, which begins on July 30.
Next, Next Year in Jerusalem
Hapoel Jerusalem, in the aftermath of their defeat of Maccabi Tel Aviv in the semifinals and sweep of Hapoel Eilat in the finals of the Israeli basketball domestic league, was riding high and hoping to get a spot in the Euroleague competition for 2015-16. Much like the qualification for Champions League and Europa League spots in soccer, the spots in the Euroleague are awarded to 11 European megaclubs first (“A” licenses), then to a combination of domestic league teams across Europe (“B” licenses), and then to “wild card” teams. (Maccabi Tel Aviv, it should be noted, does have an “A” license.) Hapoel, having received a wild card spot in 2014-15 and having won the Israeli championship this past year, had petitioned for a wild card license again, but it was not to be, as the Euroleague awarded its final spots to Bayern Munich of Germany, Strasbourg of France, Lokomotiv Kuban of Russia and Darussafaka Istanbul and Karsiyaka Izmir of Turkey.
Curious about Euro 2016 qualifying? Don't be. After a 3-0-0 start the national team has dropped three in a row and are tied with Cyprus (Cyprus!) for third place behind Wales and Belgium.