Haifa, living on the edge, set to host reeling Ashkelon

Despite winning five of its past six league matches, Haifa’s performances this season have disappointed its fans.

Maccabi Haifa 311 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Maccabi Haifa 311
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Maccabi Haifa’s level of play has been subpar for much of this season, but the Greens still lead the standings with four matches remaining ahead of the start of the Premier League championship playoffs and have been boosted in recent weeks by the return to form of star midfielder Lior Rafaelov.
Despite winning five of its past six league matches, Haifa’s performances this season have disappointed its fans, with the team only barely stumbling over the finishing line in many of its victories.
But as coach Elisha Levy keeps saying, Haifa continues to take all three points on a consistent basis and will be a firm favorite to do so once more when it hosts Hapoel Ashkelon at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium on Saturday.
With Yaniv Katan out injured, Rafaelov has been the vocal leader of Haifa’s offense over the past two matches, returning to the starting lineup after missing seven games due to injury.
Rafaelov scored the opener in each of Haifa’s last two wins and the farcical Ashkelon will have its hands full trying to stop the talented midfielder on Saturday.
Ashkelon has lost seven straight matches, conceding four goals in each of its last three games. However, its real problem has been the conduct of owner Prosper Azagi.
Azagi, currently under house arrest after being caught by policemen driving under the influence of alcohol four weeks ago, refused to allow coach Guy Azuri to guide the team in training over the past couple of days as he demands that he resigns following the side’s recent poor results.
Azuri refuses to quit, but Azagi is not willing to sack him and Eli Mahpud was brought in as a replacement, with his predecessor yet to leave.
“I know exactly what Azagi’s intentions are and that is why I refused to quit,” Azuri said after being sent away from Thursday’s training session by the owner. “As usual with Prosper Azagi, something different happens every day.
A red line was crossed today and I apologize to anyone who loves Israeli soccer.”
Maccabi Tel Aviv will look to rebound from last week’s 4-0 loss to Ironi Kiryat Shmona last week when it hosts Maccabi Netanya at Bloomfield Stadium on Saturday.
Tel Aviv has won just once in its past four contests, while Netanya is undefeated in its last six matches, drawing its past three.
Betar Jerusalem, which has won only one of its last seven encounters, hosts Hapoel Haifa at Teddy Stadium on Saturday.
Also Saturday, Hapoel Beersheba hosts Hapoel Acre and Kiryat Shmona visits Maccabi Petah Tikva. On Sunday, Hapoel Tel Aviv visits Ashdod SC and Hapoel Petah Tikva welcomes Bnei Yehuda, with Bnei Sakhnin hosting Hapoel Ramat Gan on Monday.