UEFA Champions League: No points, no goals, but Haifa attempts to find the positives

UEFA Champions League N

By JEREMY LAST
November 5, 2009 06:34
2 minute read.
soccer  Maccabi Haifa 248 88

soccer Maccabi Haifa 248 88. (photo credit: AP [file])

Maccabi Haifa's Champions League campaign has passed its halfway stage and Elisha Levy's team has yet to score a goal, let alone claim a single point from its first four games. But, despite finding itself bottom of Group A with four defeats in four games, Haifa's players and staff did their best to look on the bright side following Tuesday's 1-0 loss to Italian giant Juventus in Ramat Gan. This is only Maccabi's second appearance in the group stage of club soccer's greatest competition, while Juve has been a regular feature of the Champions League, winning the title in 1996 and finishing second in 1997, 1998 and 2003. "Of course it wasn't easy. We played against Juventus," said Haifa defender Dekel Keinan. "They are a much better team than us. For most of the players it is the first time we are playing in Europe and Juventus has a lot of experienced players. Maybe in the next few years we will be more experienced and do better." Juventus coach and former club captain Ciro Ferrara paid tribute to the way his opponent played in the game won by Mauro Cameronesi's superb volley in first half injury time. "Maccabi is a young team with a lot of young good players. They played well but we did well and managed to get the advantage in the first half," Ferrara noted. And Juve's Portuguese midfielder Tiago, said he had not expected an easy game. "It's never easy in the Champions League," he said. "We had a hard game but in the end we got the three points and we are in the fight to get through." The results have contrasted starkly with Haifa's previous appearance in the Champions League group stage in 2002, when it finished with seven points from two wins, a draw and three losses. By the halfway stage seven years ago the team then managed by current Betar Jerusalem coach Itzhak Schum, had already scored five goals and claimed three points, including bagging two in a 5-2 defeat at Manchester United which was followed by a 3-0 win over Olympiacos. The 2002 squad finished the group stage in third position, scoring 12 times in the process even though it was forced to play in its games in Nicosia, Cyprus after UEFA banned matches from being played in Israel due to the intifada. So the lack of a scoring touch this time around has disappointed the Haifa players, who have cruised through their first eight Premier League games back home, winning every one. "We let in a goal in a critical moment but what can you do, that is soccer," said captain Yaniv Katan, who was one of the scorers in the 2002 team. "It was disappointing that we lost but we are looking forward. The fact that we haven't scored a goal isn't nice but we have a good attacking line." Striker Shlomi Arbeitman, who made his first start of the group stage and came closest to breaking the deadlock for Haifa, predicted the Greens will grab at least one goal in its final two games, away at Bayern Munich and at home to group leader Bordeaux. One positive for Maccabi is that Bayern has failed to ignite its own campaign, losing 2-0 at home against Bordeaux on Wednesday and giving Haifa a hope of qualifying for the Europa League by finishing third in the group, should it win in Munich in the next game.


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