London’s Wembley Stadium is iconic.
Over the years, both in its older iteration and the new Wembley, completed in 2007, it has seen its fair share of mega-events. The 1966 World Cup final (won by England) was mammoth in and of itself, but for people my age the most memorable event held there was probably 1985’s LiveAid concert, with Queen and U2’s epic performances.
The FA Cup final, England’s all-club soccer tournament, is hosted annually at Wembley, in addition to the Carling Cup Final, the second-tier club competition for English clubs. This summer the final of the 2012 Olympic soccer tournament will take place there as well.
But next spring, the game of all games in European football, the final of the UEFA Champions League, will be hosted at Wembley Stadium, just as it was in 2011.
And wouldn’t you know it, the road to Wembley leads through…. Kiryat Shmona, Galilee, Israel.
Today kicks off the second qualifying road of the UEFA Champions League, in which forty or so second-tier teams from the major European leagues and the winners of lesser domestic leagues like Israel’s go head-to-head.
Included in the thirty-four teams playing today and tomorrow is HaPoel Ironi Kiryat Shmona, the runaway champions of Israel last year. They begin their quest for Champions League glory in Zilina, Slovakia tonight, playing against MSK Zilina, the champions of the Slovak Superleague, in the first leg of a home-and-home fixture.
The return leg will be held next Wednesday back in Israel, at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium in Haifa. Why not in Kiryat Shmona? Because the capacity of Kiryat Eliezer is 14,000, and the tiny Municipal Stadium in Kiryat Shmona only holds 5,300 spectators.
Should the boys from Kiryat Shmonah advance to the third qualification round, they’ll play on July 31 or August 1, and again the following week. With a little luck, some fortunate bounces, plucky resolve, and a sprinkling of pixie dust they’ll qualify for the group stages in the fall, a feat last achieved by an Israeli team when HaPoel Tel Aviv made it in 2010.
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