Luck of the Draw - Celtic, Hamburg to Pay Visit to TA

Scotland's Celtic, Germany's Hamburg and Austria's Rapid Vienna. Sound like a Champions League group? Hapoel Tel Aviv coach Eli Guttman thinks so.

"We got competitive teams - that's good for our fans, who are the best in Israel," Guttman said yesterday following the draw for the group stage of the Europa League, previously known as the UEFA Cup. "Now we'll play against big names in Europe, against clubs that are suited to playing in the Champions League."

The clubs of Group C do have a respectable pedigree, but Guttman's remarks hint he may be playing up their prestige in the interest of selling tickets.

Celtic came second last season in the Scottish League, no longer the dominant force it had been over the previous three years. Rapid Vienna, though it topped the Austrian Bundesliga in 2007/08, has long been seen as younger brother to Red Bull Salzburg. (Red Bull fell to Maccabi Haifa last week in the "real" Champions League.)

As for Hamburg, it finished fifth in Germany's top tier, just barely earning itself a berth in the Europa League.

Nonetheless, the draw "will not be easy," in the words of Gil Vermuth, the hero of Hapoel's playoff-round victory against Teplice of the Czech Republic. The midfielder noted, however, that "we've already proved our character by advancing to the group stage against difficult competition.

"We'll do everything we can to advance, to give the fans what they want and to build the club's European legacy," he said.