(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Maccabi Haifa enters Wednesday night’s Champions League playoff first leg
against KRC Genk in a far from ideal situation, but its troubles pale in
comparison to those of its Belgian opponent.
Haifa will only welcome back
injured captain Yaniv Katan for the second leg next Tuesday and chairman Jacob
Shahar was outraged at his players following Saturday’s 1-0 Toto Cup victory
over Bnei Sakhnin, telling them that if they intend on playing the same way
against Genk, then he won’t even bother watching the match at National Stadium
in Ramat Gan on Wednesday.
The Greens were also far from impressive in
their 3-2 aggregate victory over NK Maribor in the third qualifying round and
coach Elisha Levy has been working tirelessly with his players to improve their
performance ahead of the playoffs.
Genk’s players, on the other hand,
don’t even know who will coach them next week after manager Franky Vercauteren
signed a lucrative contract to join United Arab Emirates club Al Jazira last
Vercauteren will likely guide Genk for the last time at Ramat Gan
and he will have to do so without several key players.
Kevin De Bruyne will miss the tie through injury, with defenders Anthony Vanden
Borre and Anele Ngcongca both suspended and striker Marvin Ogunjimi also a
Genk has also only managed a draw in its last two league matches,
conceding an 87th minute equalizer in Saturday’s 2-2 tie with Zulte-
Nevertheless, Genk’s Israeli striker Elyaniv Barda believes his
team will be able to maintain its composure for Wednesday’s match and record a
result that will allow it to progress to the Champions League group stage after
next Tuesday’s return leg in Belgium.
“For us nothing has changed. Our
goal is to beat Haifa and reach the group stage, regardless of who is coaching
us,” said Barda, who played for Haifa for three seasons (2002- 2005) before
joining Hapoel Tel Aviv from which he moved on to Genk.
Vercauteren’s decision to further his career. We as players also want to do the
“We are facing a very difficult match against a very good and
experienced team. We will be without four key players, but Haifa also has its
problems. Our target is to record a result that will allow us to decide the tie
Genk, which advanced to the playoffs with a tight 3-2 aggregate
victory over Serbian champion Partizan Belgrade, won the Belgian championship
for the third time in its history last season, edging Standard Liege.
Belgians have reached the Champions League group stage once in the past in
2002/03, the same season Haifa became the first Israeli side to do
Haifa also played in the group stage two seasons ago, while Genk has
had little success in continental competitions since 2002.
season, the Belgians had won just two European ties in nine years and in the
past two seasons they have seen their continental campaigns end in August with
defeats in the Europa League playoffs.
However, even without De Bruyn and
Ogunjimi, Genk can cause Haifa plenty of problems, especially with the likes of
Jelle Vossen and Barda, who will be a handful for Levy’s inexperienced
With Croatian Jurica Buljat suspended after picking up a second
yellow card in the return leg against Maribor and Ukrainian Andriy Pylyavskyi
out for around two months with an ankle injury, Levy is expected to pair new
signing Itzik Cohen and 19-year-old Sari Falach in the center of the
Cohen only joined Haifa from Hapoel Acre last week, but he is
confident he is ready to make his European debut in such a crucial
“I’m very happy to be playing for Haifa, not just because it is a
big club but because this is where I began my career,” Cohen said. “The first
thing Elisha told me was that he expects me to lead the defense and I hope I can
Tamir Cohen, who also signed last week, is not expected to
start on Wednesday, with Levy to stick to Gustavo Boccoli and Seidu Yahaya in
the center of the field, while Vladimir Dvalishvili and Wiyam Amashe will start
up-front once more.
“We are facing a difficult encounter.
are no easy games in Europe, especially not against the Belgian champion,” Levy
said. “I hope we can record a good result and open up a lead that will help us
progress to the group stage next week.”On TV: Maccabi Haifa vs KRC Genk
(live on Sport5 at 9:45 p.m.)