Hapoel Be'er Sheva gears up for Celtic clash

Israeli champion looks to make history as it prepares to play Scottish giant Celtic in the Champions League playoff round.

Shai Landesman ,

Hapoel Be'er Sheva
Hapoel Be'er Sheva
Photo: Flash 90

After an impressive series of wins, Hapoel Be'er Sheva is preparing to take the final step into the prestigious Champions League group stage, as it takes off for Glasgow today (Monday) for the first of two games against Scottish league champion Celtic on Wednesday.

The Israeli champions are just one round away from qualifying for the group stage in the European Champions League, the world's premier club soccer tournament.

Only three Israeli clubs have ever taken part in the group stage, with Maccabi Haifa (2002-2003, 2009-2010) and Maccabi Tel Aviv (2004-2005, 2015-2016) doing it twice, and Hapoel Tel Aviv doing it once (2010-2011).

Reaching the group stage would be a huge boost for the Reds from Be'er Sheva, having only won their first ever Israeli championship this past year.

Beating Celtic would have seemed like a very big ask for Be'er Sheva just a few weeks ago, but they are now fresh of an extremely impressive win over Greek powerhouse Olympiacos, earning a 0-0 draw in Athens before winning 1-0 at Turner stadium in Be'er Sheva.

Hapoel had eked by Moldovan Sheriff Tiraspol 3-2 on aggregate in the previous qualifying round.

Confidence is running high in the ranks, but the Reds have some injury worries ahead of the match with Striker and Captain Elyaniv Barda and newly acquired Portuguese Defender Miguel Vitor set to miss Wednesday's contest.

Despite Be'er Sheva's recent form, Celtic will be the firm favorite going into the tie.

The Glasgow team has a storied history in European competition, but has struggled in the past few years as the level of the Scottish league as a whole has dropped, leaving Celtic with little competition to push it to quality performance.

One of the most interesting match-ups in the tie will pit Celtic's talented Israeli midfielder Nir Bitton against Be'er Sheva holding midfielder John Ogu. Ogu is considered by many (including this reporter) to be the best player in the Israeli league, and is absolutely key to Hapoel's success.

Be'er Sheva will be expected to play a cautious game on Wednesday, looking to keep the score low ahead of the return leg in Be'er Sheva next week.