Hapoel Dreads Austrian Champ While Maccabi Eyes French Foe

Champions to face Salzburg with Maccabi Tel Aviv to take on Paris Saint-Germaine.

Just as Maccabi Haifa drew Red Bull Salzburg in last season's Champions League playoffs, Israeli titleholder Hapoel Tel Aviv will face the Austrian champion - a prospect the club dreaded before the announcement was made at UEFA headquarters in Switzerland on Friday.

"We got the team we fear the most," said one Hapoel player. Salzburg is the last, and most dangerous, obstacle that remains in the team's way as it seeks to reach the group stage of the Champions League.

"Every team wants to get to the group stage," said Hapoel defender Douglas da Silva. "This battle will be the most difficult one we have known until this point in Europe, because every team has something to lose. Salzburg is not a team that can be taken lightly."

At the very least, Hapoel can take comfort in the fact that the first leg will be played in Austria. Therefore the goal for the Reds will be to "bring the decisive game back to Bloomfield," one player said.

Should Hapoel advance to the group stage, it will then be forced to play its home games at Ramat Gan Stadium - rather than its home pitch at Bloomfield - due to the strict standards demanded by the UEFA for its Champions League matches.

Paris pitch is welcome site for Israeli clubs

After Reuven Atar's game-winning goal put Israel on top over France in 1993; after Yossi Benayoun's equalizer for Maccabi Haifa during the 1998-99 season; and after Hapoel Tel Aviv's historic 4-2 victory over Paris Saint-Germain in 2006 - the Parc des Princes, one of the most visitor-friendly stadiums in the history of Israeli soccer, will once again open its gates, this time for Maccabi Tel Aviv. UEFA announced yesterday that Maccabi will face PSG in the Europa League playoff round.

While Maccabi's opponent seems quite formidable (PSG's fan base encompasses 11 percent of the entire population of France ), it is no longer the dominant force that took home the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup in 1996.

PSG finished this past season in just 13th place, its roster is relatively old and the team has seen much turnover in player personnel. PSG coach Antoine Kombouare has plenty of concerns on his plate.