Hapoel Tel Aviv's supporters will wait with bated breath today for news of the team's upcoming opponents in the UEFA Cup.
The second round draw to be made in Nyon at noon today will see Hapoel drawn against either Leeds United (England), Real Betis (Spain), Bordeaux (France), Schalke 04 (Germany), PAOK Thessaloniki (Greece), or Sturm Graz (Austria).
The 48 teams left in the competition have been divided into four groups of 12 teams, six seeded and six unseeded. Despite Hapoel's impressive performance last season, when the team reached the competition's quarterfinals, the squad was unseeded for this stage of the draw, and therefore, can expect tough opponents.
The most difficult of the teams that Hapoel could face is Real Betis, currently among the top clubs in the Spanish first division and considered a title contender.
A week-and-a-half ago Betis, with star player Joaquin, ran rings around Barcelona in a 3-0 victory.
Leeds would also be a very tough opponent, and on paper, is far better than Hapoel, although the club is not playing up to its full potential under Terry Venables.
Schalke, with its crowd of 70,000 at Gelsenkirschen, would also be a formidable opponent, and since Hapoel will likely have to host its opponent in Bulgaria, the chances for success do not look good.
Girondines Bordeaux, a former French champion, has known better times. Currently, the club is in tenth place in the first division with only 15 points after 10 games, but still would be favored against Hapoel.
Tel Aviv's two easiest opponents would be PAOK Thessaloniki and Sturm Graz. PAOK is not as powerful a side as it was in the 1990s, but it has a sizeable home following. Sturm, which was knocked out of the Champions League by Maccabi Haifa in the third qualifying round, is struggling after having parted company with long-time coach Ivica Osim, who was replaced by assistant Franco Fode.
The fact that Tel Aviv will not hold a real home advantage, the result of UEFA's decision not to allow international competition in Israel due to the current security situation, will make it difficult for the club to advance should it get past the next round.
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