After the nightmare start to last season, the kickoff to the 2013/14 campaign
couldn’t come soon enough for Maccabi Haifa.
However, just like last
year, Haifa’s hopes of reclaiming the championship lay in ruin with the season
Monday’s resounding 3-0 loss to Maccabi Tel Aviv at
Kiryat Eliezer Stadium was Haifa’s second defeat in just three contests, leaving
the Greens six points behind the reigning champion from Tel Aviv. After losing
in three of last season’s first four matches, there was no way back for coach
Reuven Atar, who was ultimately replaced by Arik Benado.
Haifa lost just
three of the campaign’s remaining 26 games under Benado’s charge, but the coach
enters Saturday’s match at Bnei Sakhnin feeling the pressure after the shock 3-2
loss to Ashdod SC was followed by Monday’s humbling at the hands of the
A visit to Sakhnin’s Doha Stadium is a tricky tie at the
best of times, not to mention in Haifa’s current situation.
no indication that Haifa owner Jacob Shahar is losing patience with Benado,
there is no guarantee that another setback on Saturday will not result in a
snowball effect which will end up costing Benado his job the way it did Atar,
who also seemed untouchable at the start of last season.
“I don’t think
we are in a crisis,” Benado said after the defeat to Tel Aviv, which was Haifa’s
third straight in all competitions.
“We have already proven this season
that we are a good team. I still believe in my team and players. There is still
a long way to go this season.”
Sakhnin will enter the encounter brimming
with confidence after amassing seven out of a possible nine points from its
first three games. Last week’s impressive 4-2 victory at Bnei Yehuda was the
clearest indication yet that unlike last season Sakhnin is seeking far more than
just survival this term.
“We have a very strong team this season and we
are not surprised with the results we have recorded so far,” said Sakhnin
midfielder Mohammad Ghadir, who will be facing his former team. “The match
against Haifa will be a test of our character.”
Maccabi Tel Aviv will be
hoping to ride the momentum of its emphatic victory in Haifa, which was its
first versus the Greens at Kiryat Eliezer in over 9 years, when it hosts Ironi
Kiryat Shmona at Bloomfield Stadium on Saturday.
The yellow-and-blue has
yet to concede a goal in the league this season and will be aiming to make it
four wins out of four and remain ahead of the also-perfect Hapoel Beersheba,
which doesn’t host Bnei Yehuda until Monday.
Hapoel Tel Aviv will look to
build on its first win of the campaign when it visits Hapoel Haifa. Tel Aviv
scored its first goals of the season in the 3-1 victory over Maccabi Petah Tikva
on Sunday, while Haifa has seven points from nine following its 1-0 win over
Also Saturday, Ashdod hosts Hapoel Ramat Hasharon and
Hapoel Acre visits Petah Tikva.
Hapoel Ra’anana welcomes Jerusalem in
Netanya on Sunday.
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