Maccabi Haifa tunes up for Champions League duel at Benfica

Greens get by Beersheba • Mac TA tops K8 • Beitar beats Ness Ziona • Hapoel Jerusalem blanks Ashdod

Maccabi Haifa teammates Frantzdy Pierrot (9) and Omer Atzily celebrate after hooking up for the game-winning goal in the Greens’ 2-1 victory over Hapoel Beersheba ahead of tonight’s opening Champions League group stage showdown in Portugal against Benfica. (photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Maccabi Haifa teammates Frantzdy Pierrot (9) and Omer Atzily celebrate after hooking up for the game-winning goal in the Greens’ 2-1 victory over Hapoel Beersheba ahead of tonight’s opening Champions League group stage showdown in Portugal against Benfica.
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)

Maccabi Haifa will begin its UEFA Champions League group stage campaign on Tuesday night in Lisbon when it visits Benfica in the opener of arguably the best annual club competition in the world.

This will be the third time that the Greens will be featuring in the Champions League and the first since the 2009/10 season.

During that campaign, which was managed by head coach Elisha Levy, Haifa did not score a goal or earn a point in the six-game group stage. This time around there is no question that Barak Bachar will be aiming to ensure that not only his team scores but also earns several points while picking a few wins along the way.

However, that won’t be an easy task. As well as Benfica, Haifa will play against Lionel Messi and Paris Saint-Germain and Italian powerhouse Juventus.

This week, the Portuguese side will welcome Haifa to the Estadio De Luz as head coach Roger Schmidt – who was recently in charge of PSV in Holland – will try to ensure that the over 65,000 fans in attendance will cause the visitors all kinds of issues. So far this season, Benfica has a perfect home record of 3-0, with its most recent win coming over Vizela by the score of 2-1.

MACCABI HAIFA is ready for a tough second-leg showdown with Red Star Belgrade tonight at the Marakana Stadium. The Greens beat the Serbian champ 3-2 last week in Israel and is eyeing a spot in the group stage of the Champions League (credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)MACCABI HAIFA is ready for a tough second-leg showdown with Red Star Belgrade tonight at the Marakana Stadium. The Greens beat the Serbian champ 3-2 last week in Israel and is eyeing a spot in the group stage of the Champions League (credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)

Israel Premier League

Right before the Greens kick off in Portugal, Bachar’s squad downed Hapoel Beersheba 2-1 in Israel Premier League action thanks to some last-second heroics.

Tomer Hemed headed home a 35-meter Ramzi Safouri free kick to score his first goal in Israeli league play since 2011 and give Beersheba the 1-0 lead.

However, Bachar’s squad knotted the match up in the 40th minute via an Omer Atzily penalty.

Then, just before halftime, Safouri was shown red for a reckless play on Daniel Sundgren, leaving host Beersheba down to 10 men.

As the match looked to be heading towards a draw, Atzily fed Frantzdy Pierrot with a tremendous ball that the latter stabbed home to help Haifa snatch the three points.

“This game had plenty of action and it was an important win for us.”

Barak Bachar

“This game had plenty of action and it was an important win for us,” Bachar said following the dramatic victory. “We did it like winners and to be able to score a goal so late in the game and to come back to win, I have to take off my hat to the players. We have to give a push now as we are playing a number of games coming.”

Atzily looked back at the win while looking ahead to the Champions League match at Benfica.

“This had a sweet ending and I’m happy it went our way. Now we are focusing on Benfica. For all of us the Champions League is new and we are very excited. We are coming into that game with the goal to win and I hope that this is what will happen.”

Beersheba coach Elyaniv Barda was not happy following the loss.

“It’s hard for me to calm down after this game, which is now the second one in a row that we went down a man,” Barda said. “There were plenty of things that led us to the red card and Ramzi made a huge mistake and shouldn’t have done what he did.”

At Bloomfield Stadium, meanwhile, Maccabi Tel Aviv dropped Ironi Kiryat Shmona 3-1 as Gaby Kanichowsky scored a brace to lead Vladan Ivic’s squad to the victory.

Kanichowsky opened the scoring after jumping on a rebound after a total team play while he scored his second from 13 meters out from an Oscar Glouch pass to give the hosts a 2-0 lead in the 59th minute.

Djorde Jovanovic was issued a red card for a reckless foul in the 80th minute, but going down a man didn’t hurt the yellow-and-blue attack as Parfait Guiagon took care of a Dor Peretz pass for the 3-00 advantage.

Itamar Shviro scored deep into second-half injury time for Kiryat Shmona to break up ’keeper Daniel Peretz’s clean sheet.

“We’re disappointed to have given up a goal at the end of the match but that’s not really a problem,” Ivic said. “This was a good enough game for us to win but we have to improve our game as we had plenty of problems defensively. We have to work on our team defense which is a problem that we have seen in numerous games.

Man-of-the-match Kanichowsky reflected on the game as well.

“Obviously this is fun and we are playing well. I am happy that I started and scored two goals. Playing with so many good players is fun and I am enjoying every moment. We have to continue to battle as those who want to play will need to prove themselves.”

Elsewhere, Beitar Jerusalem dominated Sektzia Ness Ziona 3-0 as Danilo Asprilla scored a second-half brace to take the points.

A give-and-go with Bar Cohen set up Asprilla’s goal in the 53rd minute and he added his second strike off an Orel Dagani pass to put Beitar up 2-0 less than 10 minutes later.

Just before the final whistle, Cohen played facilitator once again, this time for Dagani himself as Yossi Abukasis’s team took the points.

“A lot of tension was released after this win,” a relieved Abukasis noted. “It’s never pleasant to begin a season with a pair of losses and we didn’t start this game off well also. But we looked much better in the second half and right now at this stage of the season it’s just important to pick up wins.”

Meanwhile, Hapoel Jerusalem blanked Ashdod SC 3-0 in a dominant performance as Guy Badash scored a brace to lead Ziv Arie’s club to the win.

The Reds took a quick lead in the sixth minute when Badash slotted home a penalty, while he doubled the advantage soon after halftime as he latched onto a brilliant Barak Badash through-ball to go up 2-0.

Tomer Altman added the third marker in the 87th minute when he scored off an Ahmed Salman cross in the box to seal the win.

Also, Bnei Sakhnin just got by Hapoel Haifa 2-1 to secure the three points thanks to a Guy Melamed 90th-minute penalty.

After a quiet start to the game, the Carmel Reds lost Tamir Glazer to a red card after he committed a reckless foul in the 42nd minute, reducing the hosts to 10 men for the balance of the game. Beram Kayal drilled home a free kick from 25 meters to give Haim Silvas’s squad a 1-0 lead in the 63rd minute, but Shoval Gozlan drew Nir Klinger’s side even soon thereafter.

However, deep into second-half injury time, Guy Melamed slotted home a spot kick to snatch the points for Sakhnin.

Finally, Hapoel Hadera dropped Bnei Reineh 2-1 as Mohamed Khatib scored the winning goal to give Assaf Nimni’s squad the three points.

Saar Fadida scored from 25 meters out to give visiting Hadera the lead in the 23rd minute, but less than five minutes later Ahmed Abed drew the hosts even at 1-1.

But Khatib found the winner in the 75th minute to give Hadera its first points of the campaign.