Are you ready for some football?

Obviously yes, as the Brady-less Pats take on the Cardinals on Sunday night, but check the other side of the pond for some intense early-season soccer action in both Israel and Europe. Lots to talk about and this is only scratching the surface.

Europa Europalogo-uefa-europa-league

Despite a 2:0 victory over Celtic on August 23 in the return leg of their Champions League playoff fixture, Hapoel Be’er Sheva couldn’t recover from their 5:2 defeat in Glasgow in the first leg and came up one goal short of qualifying for the group stages. But all was not lost, though, as their reward to losing was an automatic spot in the Europa League. Be’er Sheva has an attractive slate of opponents in Group K, as their draw has pitted them against Inter Milan (Italy), Southampton (England), and Sparta Praha (Czech Republic), and they will begin play next Thursday, travelling to the hallowed San Siro to take on Inter.

Joining Be’er Sheva in Europa League play this fall will be Maccabi Tel Aviv, who qualified for the group stage in dramatic fashion, defeating Hajduk Split in Croatia on penalty kicks in the playoff round. Maccabi will square off in Group D against Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia), AZ Alkmaar (Netherlands), and Dundalk (Ireland). Maccabi will get things going on September 15th, hosting Zenit in Netanya.

The Italian Job

Ligat Ha’al and other domestic leagues across Europe took an international break this past weekend for World Cup qualifying matches, and Israel got things going on Monday, hosting Italy at the Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa. Graziano Pelle’s 14th-minute goal opened the scoring for the Azzurri, and Antonio Candreva added a second in the 31st minute to put double the Italians’ lead. Tal Ben Haim’s gorgeous 35th-minute a goal brought the hosts back into the game in dramatic fashion, but a third goal for Italy from Ciro Immobile in the 83rd minute put the game out of reach. Israel next takes on Macedonia on October 6 in Skopje, and hosts Liechtenstein at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem on October 9. In all reality they will need to win both games to keep up with Italy and Spain, who will certainly be vying for one of the top two spots in the group.

But seriously, watch the goal.

News and notes

Last season’s League Championship campaign for Brighton and Hove Albion ended in devastating fashion in the final promotion playoff, but hope springs eternal and the Seagulls have gotten off to a 2 win, 2 draw, 1 loss start, good for 8 points and 8th place on the table. Beram Kayal and Tomer Hemed continue to be major contributors for the blue-and-white, and will be chasing down Premier League promotion for another 40+ games or the Seagulls.

In Ligat Ha’al action, only two games down but Maccabi Tel Aviv is alone up top at 2-0-0, and Maccabi Haifa with just-transferred-home Roi Kehat is 1-0-1/3 points/8th place…that kind of middling performance ironically mirrors that of Liverpool, who have puttered out to a pedestrian 1-1-1 including an awful 0:2 loss to Burnley. Burnley. Ew.

Lots of transfers also for Israeli footballers recently, as Omer Damari went to the New York Red Bulls, goalkeeper Haviv Ohayon was sent to Watford FC on loan, Omer Atzili left Beitar Jerusalem for Granada CF of La Liga….but one transfer that did not happen was Benny Feilhaber moving from Sporting Kansas City to Hapoel Be’er Sheva. According to sources the Jewish-American footballer wanted to make the move but SKC wasn’t interested. That’s definitely too bad.

Finally, the USMNT ran over St Vincent and the Grenadines last week, 6:0, and are almost certain to qualify for the CONCACAF Hexagonal, the final stage of World Cup qualification for the federation. The boys take on Trinidad and Tobago tonight in Jacksonville (8 pm, FS1), and should lock up a berth in the Hex, that begins on November 7, by the time we all go to bed.