Maccabi Tel Aviv forward Tal Ben- Haim netted his team’s winner in last night’s 1-0 victory over Hapoel Haifa in the Toto Cup semifinals..
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
After 11 years abroad, defender Tal Ben-Haim returned home on Thursday, signing a twoyear contract with boyhood club Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Maccabi still has no coach for next season following this week’s departure of Pako Ayestaran, but sports director Jordi Cruyff has continued to rebuild the squad, bringing in the 33-year-old Ben- Haim after extending the contracts of Spanish goalkeeper Juan Pablo and his countryman Carlos Garcia on Wednesday.
After coming through the Maccabi youth system, Ben- Haim made his senior debut for the yellow-and-blue in 2001, playing for the team until 2004 before moving to Bolton Wanderers in the English Premier League.
He went on to join Chelsea in 2007 and also played for Manchester City, Portsmouth, West Ham, Queens Park Rangers, Standard Liege in Belgium and Charlton Athletic in the English second tier last season.
“I’m happy to return home,” said Ben-Haim on Thursday. “I first joined Maccabi as a six-yearold and I feel this is the right time for both the club and myself to return. I feel I’m still at my best and I hope to end my career at Maccabi.”
After being presented at Maccabi’s training complex in Kiryat Shalom, Ben-Haim continued to Shefayim to join the Israel national team in training ahead of next Friday’s Euro 2016 qualifier at Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Israel currently sits in third place in Group B with nine points after losing twice over four days in March to Belgium and Wales, who lead the group at the midway point with 11 points each.
Bosnia is in a disappointing fifth place with five points from five matches. The top two in each group qualify automatically along with the best third-place finisher, while the remaining eight third-place teams go into a home-and-away playoff.
Maccabi’s Dor Micha and Beitar Jerusalem’s Shlomi Azulay were both handed their first callups by Eli Gutman, with the coach making four changes in total to the 25-man squad which faced Wales and Belgium.
Lior Refaelov is out through suspension, Munas Dabbur is missing due to injury, while Itay Shechter and Taleb Tawatha were dropped in favor of Avi Rikan and Shir Tzedek.
The squad will leave for Austria on Sunday for a three-day training camp before continuing to Bosnia.
“We are starting the crucial second round of matches,” said Gutman, whose team beat Bosnia 3-0 in Haifa last year. “Playing Bosnia on the road will be very different and we will have to make adjustments.”