Turn back the clock on Cinderella…created at: 2012-07-17

She’s not done dancing just yet.

The fairy tale continues for HaPoel Ironi Kiryat Shmona, the national champions of Israel, in their quest for Champions League qualification. After eking by Slovakian side Zilina last month, they scored a decisive 6:2 aggregate victory against Azerbaijani champion Neftchi two weeks ago, landing them a place in the final playoff for placement in the group stage.

Now, a home-and-home fixture against Belorussian club FC BATE Borisov awaits, with the first game on Wednesday in Minsk. While Kiryat Shmona has never tasted Champions League nectar, Borisov has twice qualified for the Champions League group stage, including last year, where they finished 0-4-2 (0 wins, four losses, two draws), including losing twice to European super-club FC Barcelona by an aggregate score of 9-0.

On paper, it’s a mismatch. BATE Borisov is ranked #68 in UEFA’s ranking of European clubs, while Kiryat Shmona is #243. Not only that, but BATE has been competing in the Champions League and Europa League/UEFA Cup for the better part of the 2000s. Compared to the inexperience of the Israeli side, whose trip thus far in Europe represents only their second foray into continental competition, there’s a marked contrast.

The numbers, though, are meaningless. Kiryat Shmona has been plowing through their competition since last season, when they tore through Israel’s domestic league, and so far this year show no signs of slowing down.

In case all this intrigue has piqued your curiosity, set your DVR now for Thursday at noon, as Fox Soccer is rebroadcasting the game on American television. If you can manage to keep your eyes off of the results until then, you’ll be able to watch the game and surprised. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll be talking about next week’s game in Ramat Gan with the very real chance of group stage qualification.

And, tfu tfu tfu, should this miracle ride continue, we’ll be talking about world-class soccer in Israel all fall, with big-time European clubs coming over to take Cinderella out for a spin.

And that wouldn’t just be a moral victory. Just for making it this far to the playoff stage, Kiryat Shmona will net 2.1 million Euros. Should they advance to the group stage, that’s another 3.9 million Euro payout, and after than comes both a 3.3 million Euro payout for the six matches (six games times 550,000 Euros per match) and an approximately 9 million Euro payout from the broadcast rights.

The math is easy: by advancing to the group stage, Kiryat Shmona will net a minimum of 18 million Euros ($22.4 million). After that, in the group stage each draw would earn the club 400,000 Euros, and each victory 800,000 Euros. That’s big money for a small team.

You can read more about the financial implications of qualification by reading this article.

(FYI, Kiryat Shmona is also the LAST of the Israeli teams in the list of 443 on the UEFA site. HaPoel Tel Aviv was #64, Maccabi Haifa was #123, Maccabi Tel Aviv was #173, Bnei Yehuda was #183, Maccabi Netanya was #211, and Betar Jerusalem was #242, just ahead of Kiryat Shmona).

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