By Bryan Kondrup
This Tuesday, Maccabi Haifa Football Club (F.C.) will take on Italian juggernaut Juventus F.C. for the second time this season. After a 3-1 loss against Juventus, in which Maccabi kept it close during the majority of the game, Haifa will look to reverse their fortunes at home at Sammy Ofer Stadium. The two clubs are both competing in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League, the most prestigious club soccer competition in the world.
The Champions League (or UCL), is a yearly tournament held amongst top teams from states that are members of the Union of European Football Associations. The main tournament begins with a four-team group stage, and the two best finishers in each group will move on. The winning teams are then placed into a two-legged knockout bracket, culminating in a single-leg final which crowns Europe’s best club for that season. The qualification process is complex, but to qualify for a spot in the tournament, teams must win their domestic league, with winners from mathematically determined “weaker” leagues taking part in a play-in tournament against other similarly positioned clubs. Israeli teams take part in this play-in tournament, and as a result, their path to the UCL is a challenge.
Teams from Israel were first welcomed by UEFA into European competition in 1992, becoming full members in 1994. Since 1994, only three Israeli Premier League (IPL) clubs have ever advanced to the group stage of the UCL. The first club was Maccabi Haifa in the 2002 - 2003 season, followed by Maccabi Tel Aviv F.C. in 2003 - 2004. Haifa returned to the competition in 2009 - 2010, followed by Hapoel Tel Aviv F.C. when they made their one and only appearance in 2010 - 2011, and Maccabi Tel Aviv returned in 2015 - 2016. While Israeli clubs have taken part in other European competitions, Haifa’s appearance this season marks the end of a five-year drought of Israeli clubs competing in soccer’s highest-level competition. No IPL team has ever advanced past the group stage, something Haifa will be looking to change this year, but they will be facing an uphill battle entering the second half of the group stage.
This year, Maccabi Haifa is a member of group H, alongside previously mentioned Juventus, European powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain F.C., and Portugal’s historic S.L Benfica. To say this group is a challenge would be an understatement. Last month Haifa began their campaign with a 2-0 loss away to Benfica. A week later, PSG’s star-studded team flew to Israel to take on the Israeli champs. Despite scoring first, Haifa fell to the French club 3-1, with Lionel Messi, Neymar, and Kylian Mbappe each scoring a goal. After a short break, Maccabi played Juventus in Turin. After playing each club once, Haifa now gets a second chance to show their worth, this time facing Juventus and Benfica at home, along with PSG on the road. While the Israeli club has yet to grab a win, no team in the group has won more than two games, with Juventus only having one win. If Maccabi can pull off an upset against the Italian giants, their fortunes may change and a chance to become the first Israeli club to make it out of the group stage may present itself.
Maccabi Haifa plays Juventus Tuesday, October 11th at 12:45 PM EST, with the game being available for US viewers on Paramount+.