The Maccabi Haifa soccer team has been placed in group H of the Champion’s League group stage, where it will face off against French powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain, as well as Italian club Juventus and Portugal’s Benfica.
France’s defending champion, PSG, features some of the world’s top players, including Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe. The team lost in the Champions League final two years ago, but betting sites list it as one of the favorites this year.
Haifa’s other matchups won’t be much easier: Juventus and Benfica are both two-time champions, and perennially at the top of the tables in their respective home leagues.
Maccabi clinched its spot in the group stage Tuesday on a 90th-minute own-goal by Belgrade Red Star, giving the team a 5-4 victory on aggregate. The team was mobbed by ecstatic supporters upon returning to Israel the next day.
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It is just the third time Maccabi has made it this far in the UEFA Champions League, European soccer’s premier annual tournament. In their last appearance, in 2009-2010, the team made history by failing to score a single goal in all six matches.
The top two teams in each stage will advance to the knockout rounds. No Israeli team has ever made it past the group stage.
The Champions League group stage starts early this season on September 6 and ends five weeks sooner than usual on November 2 because of the World Cup in Qatar, which starts November 20.
Fixture congestion caused by the first World Cup played in the European winter means the Champions League final in Istanbul’s Atatürk Olympic Stadium is on June 10.
The 32 teams will share about 2 billion euros ($1.99 billion) in UEFA prize money.