After personnel changes, Haifa’s year begins

Greens are favorites against Minsk; Mac TA faces steeper challenge against Olympiacos

maccabi haifa 311 (photo credit: Nir Keidar)
maccabi haifa 311
(photo credit: Nir Keidar)
Maccabi Haifa coach Elisha Levy is doing his best to put on a brave face, but surely he has his concerns ahead of his team’s first match of the season on Thursday night.
Haifa hosts Dinamo Minsk of Belarus in the first leg of the Europa League third qualifying round at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium after a summer in which it has lost four of its 11 starters from last season.
Biram Kiyal flew out to Scotland on Tuesday ahead of his expected 2 million euro move to Celtic, joining Jorge Teixeira (FC Zurich), Shlomi Arbeitman (K.A.A. Gent) and Dekel Keinan (Blackpool), who all left Haifa for European clubs in the past couple of months.
The Greens may have pocketed over 4 million euro thanks to their summer business, but there is a growing concern among the club’s supporters that the replacements will not be able to maintain the level of success the club has become accustomed to in recent seasons.
Levy is confident, however, that the additions of Argentinian Ignacio Canuto and Arik Benado in defense and of Portugal’s Adrian Silva and Idan Vered in midfield, combined with the likely signing of two more players and the expected improvement of the team’s youngsters, will result in another successful season for Haifa.
“Every club goes through a period of the changing of the guard and I think that Haifa will continue to be a strong team in the coming seasons,” said Levy, who is starting his third campaign at the club.
“Our midfield is better than last season and after we bring in another defender and another striker we will have just as strong a squad as we did last year.”
After reaching the Champions League group stage last season, Haifa has its sights set on at least qualifying for the group stage of the Europa League this term and Levy is optimistic his side will be challenging on all fronts during the coming campaign.
“Haifa always aims to win every title and that will not change this year,” he said. “I understand the fans who get frustrated when they see what Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Tel Aviv have done over the summer, but I also know the supporters believe in our way and I’m certain we will be just as strong as we were in the past two seasons.”
Levy is adamant his players will not underestimate the Belarusians.
“We know we are facing a talented team and we will have to be ready if we are to progress,” Levy said.
Unlike Haifa, which is a clear favorite to advance to the final round of the Europa League qualifiers, Maccabi Tel Aviv will be a massive underdog when it visits Olympiacos in Athens in the first leg on Thursday.
The Greeks are superior to Tel Aviv in every facet of the game.
Olympiacos has brought in eight new players over the summer, including Liverpool’s Albert Riera and Argentina’s Ariel Ibagaza, looking to rebound from failing to claim the championship for just the second time in 13 years last season.
“We must treat Maccabi seriously,” said Ibagaza. “We want to win the first leg comfortably so that we will be less tense in the return leg in Tel Aviv.”
Considering Tel Aviv’s most recent performance, Olympiacos can afford to play far from its best to progress to the playoffs.
Yossi Mizrahi’s men fell to a humbling 2-1 defeat to Montenegro’s FK Mogren in the second leg of the second qualifying round and only advanced thanks to their 2-0 home win.
“We’re not just here to defend. We will play a controlled game, but we have excellent players and I want you to show it,” Mizrahi told his squad on Wednesday. “We need to be wary of Olympiacos, but we mustn’t give them too much respect.”
On TV: Maccabi Haifa vs Dinamo Minsk
(live at 8:40 p.m. on Sport 1)