The Last Word: How Haifa's Champions League campaign went so horribly wrong

The Lat Word How Haifa

November 6, 2009 07:15
3 minute read.

Looking at the bare statistics it is easy to brand Maccabi Haifa's second Champions League campaign as nothing but a failure. Not only has Elisha Levy's side lost all four of its matches so far, leaving it with no chance of qualifying for the knockout stages, but it is well on the way to becoming the first team not to score a goal in the group stage since the competition was launched in 1992. A deeper analysis would show that the team's performances were far from embarrassing - Haifa put up a genuine fight for much of the first three games, and managed to hold Italian giant Juventus to only a single goal in its fourth game on Tuesday despite not playing particularly well. But the results speak for themselves. Maccabi is simply not at the level to compete in soccer's greatest club competition and should be thankful to UEFA President Michel Platini for creating the circumstances which allowed it to qualify in the first place. Platini tweaked the qualification process in order to allow more teams from minor countries into the Champions League in an effort to widen the tournament's appeal. Last year, for example, Betar Jerusalem would have had to beat Barcelona over two legs to qualify for the group stage had it not lost 5-0 to Wisla Krakow in the earlier qualifying round. This new system may have benefited a number of small clubs, but it only diminished the quality of an event which prides itself on excellence. There was a remote chance Haifa could have shocked the soccer world by totally outdoing itself and claiming a significant number of points off Bayern Munich, Bordeaux, and Juventus. But that would have been an anomaly rather than a true reflection of the club's worth. There are two reasons why Levy's squad has been unable to find success in Europe this season. The first is a question of ability and the second, perhaps more importantly, is a matter of attitude. At a basic level it has become painfully obvious over the last six weeks that the Maccabi players themselves may be far better than their opponents in the local Premier League, but are nowhere near good enough to make an impact in the Champions League. In part this is an unfortunate consequence of club chairman Jacob Shahar's decision to tighten Levy's budget over the summer due to the economic crisis. However, there had still been hopes among the Haifa faithful that the mixture of newly acquired players such as Georgian striker Vladimer Dvalishvili, up and coming youngsters like Shlomi Arbeitman, Mohammad Ghadir and Eyal Golasa, and experienced veterans Yaniv Katan and Gustavo Boccoli, would make up a respectable European-level team. In reality, the team put some good passes together, created some half chances, but never came close to seriously troubling any of the three opponents. A large part of this is down to the way the club has approached the games. Over the years the Champions League has been one of the most watched sporting events on television. Israelis just can't get enough of it and four or five games are broadcast live simultaneously each matchday. But while Israeli sports fans had every right to become overwhelmed with excitement at the prospect of the Champions League coming to these shores for only the second time, and the first in five years, the Haifa players and staff should have kept their feet firmly on the ground. It was Levy's responsibility to instill a belief that, even though they were playing against some of the most famous soccer stars in the world, there was no reason that they shouldn't compete against them as equals. In all four games Maccabi produced many attacking moves, but there was a lack of self-belief which emanated from the entire team. This was most clearly apparent in Haifa's Group A opener against Bayern Munich in Ramat Gan when a second half goal totally took the wind out of the team's sails. Had the team in green displayed a more aggressive attitude in its quartet of matches, it may well have found itself in a very different position than the embarrassing, goalless situation it's in now.

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