Three NB1 teams will feature in this season’s edition of the UEFA Europa League. The clubs that qualified out of Hungary’s top flight will start in the First Qualifying Round of the Europa League and will face other domestic top finishers or cup winners from around Europe starting on 29 June with the first leg. The second leg will be played the following week on 6 July and the team with the highest aggregate score will advance to the Second Qualifying Round. The losers will be eliminated from the competition.
Vasas SC finished 3rd in NB1 and on Monday, 19 June, the draw for the Europa League was held at UEFA headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland where they were drawn against Israeli side Beitar Jerusalem.
Beitar Jerusalem vs Vasas SC
First leg: at HaMoshava Stadium, Petah Tikvah, Israel (cap. 11,500)
Date: Thursday, 29 June. This match was originally to be played at Teddy Stadium -Beitar’s home stadium in Jerusalem – but will now be played behind closed doors at an alternate site due to UEFA sanctions from disorderly conduct by supporters.
Second leg: at Szusza Ferenc stadion, Budapest (cap. 14,817)
Date: Thursday, 6 July
Manager: Sharon Mimer (since 6 February, 2017)
Beitar qualified for the Europa League after finishing 3rd in the Israeli Premier League Championship round finishing unbeaten in their last six games with four victories. This will be their third consecutive season in Europa League qualification. Last season they went the distance through three qualifying rounds into the Europa League playoff round under Serbian manager Slobodan Drapić but eventually lost to Ligue 1 side St. Étienne 2-1 on aggregate. It was their best performance and deepest run in the competition in the club’s history.
Drapić left for his former club Maccabi Netanya after they were eliminated and Ran Ben Shimon took over only to be replaced by Sharon Mimer in February. Mimer led Beitar into the Championship round of Ligat Ha’al and overtook Maccabi Petah Tikvah for the third and final Europa League spot with an impressive final push in their last six games. Leading scorer Itay Shechter scored 19 goals for them last season – 5 of those were in his last 10 games during the Championship round to help lead them into a Europa League spot.
Itay Shechter led Beitar with 19 goals in all competitions last season, but only one of those came in Europa League qualifying. Attacking midfielder Idan Vered scored 13 goals and added 5 assists in an impressive first season with Beitar.
The recent announcement of veteran midfielder Yossi Benayoun’s arrival should be a boost to the club as well.
Founded in 1936, Beitar Jerusalem is considered to be the most controversial team in the Israeli football league. They are the “people’s team” and have had successful periods in their history. Their most productive came between 2006 and 2009 when they won 2 league titles and two State Cups over three seasons.
Beitar’s most vocal supporters are the historically nationalistic La Familia group who have been labeled ‘racist’ for their strong stance on keeping Beitar as the only Israeli team that has never had an Arab player. They’ve had Muslim players in the past but the last time they signed two Chechen Muslim players under Russian owner Arcadi Gaydamak, supporters set fire to the club’s administrative offices in protest.
Teddy Stadium is nicknamed Gehinom or “Hell” by its supporters for the atmosphere they create for visiting fans and teams.
From the expert: Israeli foot ball analyst Ori Cooper reports that Beitar had a “nice season but the fans want more. They used to fight for the title in the past but today are just 3rd or 4th wheel of the league. However, since current coach Sharon Mimer took charge the team played happy football and showed great potential. Beitar lost this month 2 of their best players, Jesus Rueda and Dan Einbinder. They have great RB, former France u21 Antoine Conte. Best offensive player is AM Idan Vered and of course the two new signings, Georginho and Benayoun.”
Ori went on to say, “In the past people considered Hungarian league as much better one than the Israeli but those days are the past. Now people believe the NB1 is not so strong. However, the national team got respect last summer during Euro 2016.”
Manager: Michael Oenning (since 2 January, 2016)
Vasas had a magical 2016-17 season as they secured their place in NB1 on the last match day of the previous season and then went on to challenge for the title for most of last season until fading in the final few weeks. It was a great accomplishment for Michael Oenning’s side who also made it to the final of the Magyar Kupa and lost to Ferencváros in a penalty shootout.
This will be their first foray into continental football in 12 years and their first appearance in the UEFA’s second tier competition since 2000.
There weren’t too many standout stars in their squad, but Vasas’ strength came from good team chemistry and the ability to call upon a number of contributors on offense. Forward Martin Ádám led the team with 7 goals and could have had more if a late-season injury didn’t keep him off the pitch. Midfielders Zsombor Berecz and Mohamed Remeli were the catalysts with 15 assists between them while young Szilveszter Hangya had a standout season at left back. Mahir Saglik is also another player that adds veteran leadership, experience and his fair share of goals (13 in all competitions last season).
The last time Vasas played continental football was in 2005 against Slovakia’s ZTS Dubnica (currently MFK Dubnica) in the now discontinued Inter-Toto Cup. They were held goalless in their two games and didn’t make it out of the first round. Before that they played in the 2000-01 UEFA Cup defeating Ventspils in the qualifying round before falling to AEK Athens in the First Round.
Vasas made the latter stages of the European Cup in their glory days, falling to Real Madrid in the semifinals in 1958, and then to Benfica ten years later in the quarter finals. They’ve never played a competitive match against Israeli opposition, but surprisingly they did play a training match against Beitar Jerusalem before the Europa League draw and won 2-1. They played a similar match against Beitar 10 years ago and lost by the same scoreline.
Ori Cooper – “The Vasas match is more equal (than Hapoel Beer Sheva vs Honvéd) and I think Beitar have small advantage.”
Chris Barrett – The match behind close doors in Israel will lessen Beitar’s advantage and Vasas will finish them off at home in the second leg.