Haifa eyes round of 32 in Bucharest

Greens face Romanians after fan attack; Hap, Mac TA playing for pride.

soccer 311 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
soccer 311
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Maccabi Haifa can secure its progress to the round of 32 of the Europa League on Thursday night, while Hapoel Tel Aviv and Maccabi Tel Aviv are already playing for pride after a disappointing first half to their group campaigns.
A victory for Haifa at Steaua Bucharest will secure the reigning Israeli champion a place in the next round with two matches to spare, although the Greens will also be happy to settle for a draw, which would keep them four points clear of the Romanians.
Haifa crushed nine-man Steaua 5-0 at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium two weeks ago, with Weeam Amasha netting a brace, Yaniv Katan making it 3-0 from the penalty spot following Eric Bicfalvi’s dismissal and Taleb Tawatha and Idan Vered completing a miserable European coaching debut for new Steaua boss Ilie Stan following Valentin Iliev’s sending off on 64 minutes.
The 5-0 defeat matched Steaua’s worst defeats in UEFA competition, but Haifa coach Elisha Levy knows his side faces a completely different proposition in Romania.
“Clearly this will be a totally different match to the one in Israel,” said Levy, whose team hasn’t won in eight continental road games. “It is not every day that you have a chance to progress to the round of 32, and we will have to make sure we are as ready as we can be.
“I’m expecting an aggressive game from the Romanians. They will be very motivated and have nothing to lose.”
Bucharest enters Thursday’s match in a state of disarray after two of its players suffered serious injuries after being attacked by fans during an ill-tempered league match at promoted Petrolul Ploiesti on Sunday, which was abandoned just before halftime.
Defender George Galamaz, capped four times by Romania, sustained a serious facial injury after a Petrolul fan invaded the pitch and punched him, initiating an ugly mass brawl in the latter stages of the first half of the mid-table clash.
“[Galamaz] suffered a cheekbone fracture and he’ll be recovering for six weeks,” Steaua sporting director Narcis Raducan told local media, adding that the player also has hearing problems.
Reserve keeper Ciprian Tatarusanu suffered severe burns after he was hit by a firecracker thrown from the stands, forcing the match to be abandoned after almost a half-hour delay.
The Ploiesti-based club’s supporter ran onto the field after being angered by referee Robert Dumitru’s decision to award Steaua a dubious penalty. The visitors led 1-0 at the time.
Steaua’s Serbian defender Novak Martinovic and ’keeper Razvan Stanca were sent off for attacking the fan, with Martinovic using a karate-style kick.
“We want to avenge the defeat in Haifa,” said Steaua coach Stan, who replaced Israeli Roni Levy at the helm.
“The 5-0 loss was very humiliating for us, but I believe that this match will be a different story. If we win the match I believe it will have a significant effect on the rest of our season.”
While Haifa will still retain a good chance of advancing to the knockout stages even if it falls to Steaua, Hapoel Tel Aviv and Maccabi Tel Aviv have already lost any realistic chance of a top-two finish.
Hapoel was a clear favorite to advance from Group C, but a shocking home defeat to Rapid Bucharest was followed by a heartbreaking loss at Legia Warsaw, and the 1-0 setback against PSV Eindhoven two weeks ago ended any real hope it may have had of claiming a place in the round of 32.
Eindhoven will be confident of maintaining its 100 percent record when it hosts Hapoel on Thursday, but Tel Aviv’s Shay Abutbul thinks the Reds may finally be able to get off the mark in the Netherlands.
“It is about time we do something in this competition,” Abutbul said. “We may not be able to advance to the next stage, but it is about time we pick up some points and regain the club’s honor in Europe.”
Maccabi Tel Aviv has at least got one point in Group E, but it also has little hope of reaching the next round from a group that includes Stoke City, Dynamo Kiev and Besiktas.
The yellow-and-blue was completely outclassed in its away matches at Besiktas (5-1) and Stoke (3-0), but it impressed in its 1-1 home draw against Kiev and will be aiming for a similar performance against Stoke at Bloomfield Stadium on Thursday.
“I think we will have an easier time at home than we did against Stoke on the road, and I believe we can pick up points at Bloomfield,” said midfielder Dor Micha, who scored Tel Aviv’s goal in the draw against Kiev.

Reuters contributed to this report.