Yossi Benayoun will play his first Premier League match for Maccabi Haifa since 2002 next Monday and the Greens’ fans are thrilled..
(photo credit: MACCABI HAIFA FACEBOOK PAGE)
Yossi Benayoun made a triumphant return to the Israeli Premier League on Sunday night, helping Maccabi Haifa to a 3-1 win over Hapoel Petah Tikva at the Sammy Ofer Stadium in his first match in local league play since 2002.
The 34-year-old midfielder rejoined Haifa this summer after 12 seasons in Spain and England, but missed the team’s first two league encounters due to a knee injury.
However, he recovered sooner than expected from a partial tear in his right knee ligaments and started for the Greens on Sunday despite only coming through two full training sessions with the team. Benayoun left the pitch to a standing ovation after being substituted in the 60th minute.
Petah Tikva took a shock lead through Hasan Abu Zaid after just five minutes, with Haifa midfielder Michel turning the ball over and defender Dekel Keinan committing a further mistake to allow Abu Zaid to run unchallenged from the center of the field.
However, the hosts would level the score through Hen Ezra in the 25th minute and the comeback was complete five minutes later when the midfielder set up Alon Turgeman.
Benayoun hit the crossbar with a header in the 37th minute and Ezra was also denied by the woodwork four minutes into the second half.
Nevertheless, Haifa would ultimately clinch the win in the 81st minute when substitute Weeam Amasha scored his team’s third goal just 45 seconds after entering the pitch.
Next up for Haifa is a mouthwatering showdown with Maccabi Tel Aviv at Bloomfield Stadium on October 20.
There will be no league action over the next two weekends due to Yom Kippur and the Israel national team beginning its Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.
“It was very important for me to play and I felt okay,” said Benayoun.
“Clearly I’m still not at 100 percent, but this is only the beginning and I’m sure I will improve.”
Benayoun tried to downplay the importance of the upcoming match with the yellow-and-blue.
“It is just another match,” he insisted.
“If we win it won’t mean we will take the championship and if we lose it won’t mean the season is over. This is only the beginning of the season.”
On Monday, two-time defending champion Maccabi Tel Aviv visits last season’s runner-up Hapoel Beersheba.
Maccabi was the only team to triumph in its first two matches of the campaign and will return to the top of the standings with a draw or a win at Vasermil Stadium.
“I believe that four or five teams will battle for the league title this season,” said Maccabi coach Pako Ayestaran.
Expensive summer recruit Eden Ben-Basat could start for the yellow-andblue for the first time in the league after not featuring at all in the team’s first two matches. “Ben-Basat wasn’t happy about sitting on the bench, but everyone will get their chance this season, including Eden,” explained Pako.
Beersheba beat Hapoel Petah Tikva 3-1 last week following a 1-1 draw against Beitar Jerusalem to begin the season.
Coach Elisha Levy believes his team can defeat the yellow-and-blue despite its far from impressive start to the campaign.
“We are aiming high and I believe in my team and that we will improve with time,” he said. “This is a key match and I’m certain that we will play with confidence and win.”