Analysis: Drenched Haifa players, coach reflect on European failures

Analysis Drenched Haifa

maccabi haifa 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
maccabi haifa 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
As the heavens opened and the drenched and disappointed Maccabi Haifa players left the field following their 1-0 defeat to Bordeaux on Tuesday night a sense of disillusionment settled over National Stadium in Ramat Gan. Little was expected from Haifa when it started its qualifying campaign for the Champions League some five months ago. However, that began to change after the thrashing of Northern Ireland's Glentoran and the dramatic comeback win against FK Aktobe of Kazakhstan. The subsequent convincing aggregate victory over Austria's Red Bull Salzburg, not only booked Haifa's place in the group stage for the first time in seven seasons, but also created a wave of euphoria which raised expectations to a level the team could simply not meet. Few analysts truly believed Elisha Levy's side could advance from a group which included Bayern Munich, Juventus and Bordeaux. However, none expected Haifa to become the first team in the 18-year-history of the Champions League to end the group stage with no points or goals. There is little doubt that worst teams have played in European soccer's most prestigious competition, especially when you consider Haifa's respectable performances in Bordeaux and Juventus. However, it is a fact that Haifa set a new record for futility on Tuesday night, despite losing all of the games 1-0 aside from the opening 3-0 defeat to Bayern Munich. "We are all very disappointed," a downcast Levy told reporters after the match. "We recorded an excellent achievement by reaching the group stage, but the fact that we failed to take a point or score a goal is very disappointing. "We might have been slightly unlucky in some of the matches, but all in all we were simply not good enough." Tuesday night may have been heartbreaking, but the frustration felt by anyone associated with Haifa will quickly fade. The real question, however, is where does the team go from here? The fact that Levy wasn't searching for excuses and understands that his side was far from ready for the continent's best is the first step to returning to the group stage and making up for this season's humiliation. Haifa can also draw encouragement from the knowledge that so many of its key players have yet to reach their prime. Defender Dekel Keinan (24), midfielders Biram Kiyal (21), Eyal Golasa (18) and Mohammad Ghadir (18) and striker Shlomi Arbeitman (24), to mention just a few, give Levy a superb core of players to move forward with. Should Haifa hold on to its talented youngsters and continue to nurture them, it can expect further success on the local scene and, before too long, also a return to the group stage for the third time in club history. "When I joined the club in the summer of 2008 we decided we would move in a certain direction," said Levy, hinting to the fact that the club elected to give home grown talent the chance to succeed instead of bringing in expensive foreign imports. "We decided we would make the most of our youngsters. We won the championship in our first season and went on to reach the Champions League group stage. We chose to take the hard way, but this is the right way." For the time being, Haifa's Champions League adventure should be regarded as no less than a complete failure. However, should the team's blossoming stars take Haifa back to the group stage in the coming years and erase this season's ignominy we will need to rethink the way this campaign should be remembered. Inexperience was perhaps the biggest thorn in Levy's side. But, that will not be the case next time around. At the moment it is difficult to escape the sense of disappointment, but down the road we may come to look at Haifa's recent campaign as invaluable education rather than another embarrassing episode in Israeli soccer history.