(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
With a squad decimated by suspensions and injuries and a big question mark
hanging over its top goalkeeper, Maccabi Haifa hosts NK Maribor at Kiryat
Eliezer Stadium on Wednesday night needing a win in the first leg of the
Champions League third qualifying round.
Haifa overcame Bosnian champion
FK Borac Banja Luka 7-4 on aggregate in the previous round, but it turned in a
poor performance in a 3-2 defeat in the second leg last week.
the expected absence of four influential players on Wednesday, the Greens have
plenty to prove in a crucial encounter against the Slovenian champion ahead of
next week’s return leg.
Gustavo Boccoli and Seidu Yahaya, who started for
Maccabi in the center of the field in both matches against Borac, are both
suspended, while Yaniv Katan is expected to miss out on his second straight
encounter with a back injury, and Eyal Golasa doubtful with a knee
“I don’t want to talk about the players that we will be
missing. We have other players who will need to fill their boots and give more
than usual. I hope that with a team effort we will be able to win this important
match,” Haifa coach Elisha Levy said. “Maribor is an excellent team with a great
history. It is a team quite similar to ours, both in its style of play and
lineup. It’s a young side and I’m certain we are facing a very difficult
Maribor, which beat Luxembourg’s F91 Dudelange 5-1 on aggregate
to reach the third qualifying round, has reached the group stage of the
Champions League once before, in the 1999/2000 season, and remains the only
Slovenian team to ever do so.
Darko Milanic’s team won just its second
local championship in eight years last season, and since its historic
achievement 12 years ago, it has recorded little success in continental
competition, failing to make it past the Champions League qualifying rounds on
“Haifa is the favorite,” Milanic said. “Maccabi
has fast and technical players and they are very good in one-on-one situations.
Nevertheless, if we can control the possession, Haifa is
Besides having to deal with a depleted squad, Levy also has
a difficult decision to make regarding which ’keeper to start in
Nir Davidovich, who has been Haifa’s first-choice stopper for most
of the past decade, played a major role in two of the goals the Greens conceded
in Bosnia last week, and Levy is considering dropping the 34-year-old and giving
new Serbian ’keeper Bojan Shranov his debut on Wednesday.
Shranov to make sure that we would be covered in the goalkeeper’s position,”
Levy said. “Davidovich is an excellent ’keeper, even though he played a part in
two of the goals we conceded against Borac last week.
“We need to play
better in defense, and that isn’t just the job of the goalkeeper or the
“Our goal is to reach the group stage, and we will do whatever
it takes to get there.”