Maccabi Haifa and Crvena zvezda meet in the play-off first leg with both looking to earn a third appearance in the UEFA Champions League group stage.
Both clubs have recorded emphatic wins already in this season’s qualifying competition, a pair of 4-0 victories helping Maccabi Haifa through both the second and third qualifying round while their Serbian opponents scored seven goals without conceding in the third qualifying round.
This is the sides’ first meeting, and Crvena zvezda’s first game against a club from Israel.
Champions of Israel for the 14th time – and second in succession – in 2021/22, Maccabi Haifa are bidding to reach the UEFA Champions League group stage for the third time, and the first since 2009/10. Third in their section in 2002/03, when they recorded 3-0 home wins against both Olympiacos and Manchester United, they lost all six games without scoring seven seasons later.
Maccabi have twice missed out in qualifying since their last group appearance, including their only previous UEFA Champions League play-off when they were beaten 4-1 on penalties by Genk in 2011/12 (2-1 h, 1-2 a).
In 2021/22, they were eliminated by Kairat Almaty in the UEFA Champions League first qualifying round (1-1 h, 0-2 a), moving into the inaugural UEFA Europa Conference League as a result. They came through three qualifying rounds to reach the group stage but finished bottom of Group E on four points, the sole victory a 1-0 home win against Slavia Praha on Matchday 3.
Maccabi’s 2022/23 European campaign started in the second qualifying round, where a remarkable 4-0 victory away to Olympiacos in the second leg wrapped up a 5-1 aggregate win. Apollon Limassol of Cyprus were then beaten in the third qualifying round (4-0 h, 0-2 a).
No Israeli side has reached the UEFA Champions League group stage since Maccabi Tel-Aviv in 2015/16. Haifa currently shares the national record of two appearances with their Tel-Aviv rivals.
Maccabi have lost only one of their last 16 European home games (W10 D5), 0-1 against Union Berlin on Matchday 5 last season.
Maccabi have won one of their four games against Serbian sides, a 1-0 home victory against Crvena zvezda’s Belgrade rivals Partizan in the 2006/07 UEFA Cup group stage in the most recent encounter. They had lost their first three matches, scoring one goal and conceding eight.
UEFA Champions League group stage debutants in 2018/19, Crvena zvezda returned the following season – winning one game and finishing fourth in their section on each occasion – but have not featured since.
The Belgrade club have since lost in the third qualifying round twice, to Omonoia of Cyprus in 2020/21 (1-1, 2-4 pens) and Moldova’s Sheriff last season (1-1 h, 0-1 a). In 2021/22, Dejan Stanković’s side went on to finish first in UEFA Europa League Group F on 11 points, but lost to eventual runners-up Rangers in the round of 16 (0-3 a, 2-1 h).
Crvena zvezda entered this season’s UEFA Champions League in the third qualifying round, beating Pyunik of Armenia 5-0 at home – new signing Osman Bukari scoring a hat-trick – and 2-0 away.
Champions of Serbia in 2021/22 for the fifth year in a row, this is only Crvena zvezda’s third UEFA Champions League play-off, having beaten Salzburg to earn their debut in 2018/19 (0-0 h, 2-2 a) and Young Boys the following season (2-2 a, 1-1 h), both on away goals.
Links and trivia
Maccabi Haifa centre-back Bogdan Planić is a former Serbian Under-21 international who played for Crvena zvezda in 2014, making five league appearances. He has also represented Sloboda Užice (2011), Žarkovo (2011), Jedinstvo Užice (2012/13), OFK Beograd (2013/14, 2015–16) and Vojvodina (2016–17) in his homeland.
Planić has lost all six of his games against Crvena zvzeda and was sent off in OFK Beograd’s 6-2 home league defeat on 19 July 2015.
Crvena zvezda striker Aleksandar Pešić scored ten league goals in 23 appearances for Maccabi Tel-Aviv in 2020/21. His record against Maccabi Haifa was W1 D2, with two goals – a 90th-minute penalty winner in a 2-1 victory on 27 January 2021 and his side’s second goal in a 2-2 draw on 9 May that year on his last appearance for the Israeli club.
Maccabi coach Barak Bakhar lost both of his UEFA Champions League play-off ties in charge of former club Hapoel Beer-Sheva – to Celtic in 2016/17 (2-5 a, 2-0 h) and Maribor in 2017/18 (2 -1 h, 0-1 a).