After int’l break, Haifa hopes to keep rolling at Acre

Maccabi Haifa will look to pick up where it left off before the international break when it visits Hapoel Acre in Premier League action.

Maccabi Haifa 311 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Haifa 311
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Haifa will look to pick up where it left off before the international break when it visits Hapoel Acre in Premier League action on Saturday evening.
Haifa has won its last three contests and six of its last seven league matches, but it will likely have to manage without three of its biggest stars against a gritty Acre team.
Lior Rafaelov, who was one of Israel’s best players in its Euro 2012 qualifying victories over Latvia and Georgia, is suspended, while Eyal Golasa will miss the next few weeks through injury. Captain Yaniv Katan is also a major doubt, still recovering from back spasms which have kept him out of Haifa’s last three encounters.
“We had good momentum before the international break, but we know what we have to do to win,” said Haifa midfielder Gustavo Boccoli, who is expected to start Saturday’s match.
“We have three more very important matches until the start of the playoffs and we can’t afford to lose our focus.”
Acre, which is fighting for a top-six finish and a place in the championship playoffs, is unbeaten in its last five matches and has lost just once in its past 12 home games.
“We realize how important this match is for them and how well they have been playing recently,” said Boccoli, whose team needs two wins from its next three matches to ensure it will enter the playoffs in first place. “Even without some of our key players, we will need to find a way to beat them.”
A win for Haifa will take it seven points clear of Hapoel Tel Aviv for at least 48 hours, with the reigning champion not hosting Hapoel Petah Tikva until Monday night.
The international break couldn’t have come at a better time for Maccabi Tel Aviv, which was humbled 4- 0 by Ironi Kiryat Shmona before falling 3-0 to Maccabi Netanya in its last league match two weeks ago.
Yellow-and-blue coach Moti Ivanir has had time to settle his team, but Maccabi faces a tricky match at Bnei Yehuda on Saturday.
Bnei Yehuda had its sevengame unbeaten streak snapped with a 2-1 defeat to Hapoel Petah Tikva, but Dror Kashtan’s men have shown consistent improvement over recent months and will be looking to bounce back on Saturday.
“I hope that we can get back on track on Saturday,” Ivanir said. “We suffered a blow with two straight defeats and we need to stop this run.”
Betar Jerusalem has won two of its last three contests to open a double-digit gap from the relegation zone, but it is still reeling from being deducted one point by the Israel Football Association disciplinary court last week for the racist chants shouted by its fans at Hapoel Tel Aviv midfielder Salim Toama.
Betar has an ideal opportunity to distance itself further from the bottom three on Saturday when it visits sorry Hapoel Ashkelon, which has lost eight consecutive games, conceding at least three goals in its last five encounters.
“The point deduction really hurt us and it was an exaggerated punishment,” coach Roni Levy said. “We know Ashkelon’s situation, but we are trying to focus on ourselves.
“Everyone understands how significant a victory would be for us.”
Also Saturday, Maccabi Netanya hosts Maccabi Petah Tikva, Ashdod SC visits Hapoel Ramat Gan and Hapoel Beersheba travels up north to face Ironi Kiryat Shmona.
Hapoel Haifa hosts Bnei Sakhnin on Sunday.