Greens seek to secure advancement

Mac Haifa takes nervy 2-1 advantage into 2nd leg at Genk with group stage on the line.

idan vered maccabi haifa_311 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
idan vered maccabi haifa_311
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Weeam Amasha could not have wished for a better start to his Maccabi Haifa career.
The 26-year-old striker from Buq’ata in the northern Golan Heights, a Druze town of approximately 6,000 residents, scored a hat-trick in his debut for the Greens in the first leg of the Champions League second qualifying round against FK Borac Banja Luka and has been in scintillating form ever since.
Three days after scoring the opener in last week’s 2-1 win over KRC Genk in the first leg of the Champions League playoffs, Amasha netted all four goals in the 4-1 Premier League victory over Maccabi Netanya on Saturday.
Overall, Amasha has already scored nine goals in his first eight matches for the Greens, but his 10th could be the most important of his career if he nets it against Genk in Belgium on Tuesday night and helps the team secure a place in the group stage of European soccer’s most prestigious competition for the second time in three years.

Haifa took a deserved 2-0 lead into the halftime break of last week’s first leg thanks to goals from Amasha (8) and Vladimir Dvalishvili (28), but it lived to rue its missed chances in the superb first half after Genk’s Israeli striker Elyaniv Barda scored a valuable away goal in the 61st minute that leaves the tie finely balanced.
“I’m not sure which lineup we will use, but it really makes no difference.
We must complete the job regardless,” said midfielder Eyal Golasa, who was one of six players coach Elisha Levy rested on Saturday ahead of the second leg of the playoffs.
“I’m certain that the return leg will be very different to the first match and Genk will play much better. However, we are first and foremost focusing on the way we will play and we aren’t even thinking of failure. We won’t disappoint owner Jacob Shahar.”
Golasa was also full of praise for Amasha’s contribution since he joined from Ironi Kiryat Shmona in the offseason.
“The first time I saw him in training I knew that he’s a top quality player and I’m certain he will help us a lot this season,” Golasa added.
Israel coach Luis Fernandez has been tracking Amasha since last season and would like to call-up the player for the upcoming Euro 2012 qualifiers against Greece and Croatia after watching him in Netanya on Saturday.
However, being from Buq’ata, Amasha refuses to accept Israeli citizenship.
Buq’ata was captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War and the community leaders imposed a socio-religious ban on Israeli citizenship when the Knesset passed the Golan Heights Law in 1981.
It is estimated that fewer than 10 percent of the Golan Druze are currently Israeli citizens, with the locals choosing instead to hold on to their Syrian citizenship.
Amasha played for Israel’s under-19 and under-21 national teams, traveling abroad with a Travel Document which requires him to receive a visa from any country he visits.
However, international football’s governing body FIFA has since changed its laws, requiring players to hold full citizenship and a passport of the country they represent.
Amasha has said he wants to play for Israel, but he has no intention of making a move that would result in him being excommunicated and he’s hoping to get special dispensation from FIFA that will allow him to play for Israel even without a passport to his name.
The Israel Football Association is searching for a solution, but in the meantime, Amasha and his Haifa teammates are completely focused on ensuring Israel has a representative in the group stage for a third straight year.
Haifa will be hoping to make the most of Genk’s recent struggles, with the Belgian champion winless in its last five matches, dropping to a 3-2 defeat to Crecle Brugge in league play on Saturday.
Genk has also yet to find a full-time replacement for coach Frank Vercauteren, who left for al-Jazira Club in the United Arab Emirates following the first leg against Haifa.
Pierre Denier and Hans Visser, who were Vercauteren’s assistants, have taken temporary charge.
“I didn’t like the fact that people criticized the Belgian league after the first leg,” Barda said on Monday. “We conceded two early goals last week and went into shock, but this is a new match and we believe we can win and advance to the group stage.”
Haifa midfielder Gustavo Boccoli, who will play a crucial role in the center of the field, agrees with Barda that the tie is still wide open, but is confident that the Greens have what it takes to progress.
“This is a completely different match to the one we played at home, but we have seen that we are good enough to overcome Genk,” the Brazilian said. “We must respect our opponent and play as if we don’t have a 2-1 lead from the first leg. We will give our all to make it through to the group stage.”
On TV: KRC Genk vs Maccabi Haifa (live on Channel 2 at 9:45 p.m.)