Local Soccer: Haifa aims to leave European disappointment behind

Local Soccer Haifa aims

After a week to forget, Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Tel Aviv will be hoping to keep their championship campaigns on track with a Premier League victory on Saturday. Haifa became the first club in the 18-year history of the Champions League to end the group stage with no points or goals following its 1-0 home loss to Bordeaux on Tuesday. Elisha Levy's team has won 11 of its first 12 league matches and will be aiming to shrug off its continental disappointment when it visits the struggling Hapoel Petah Tikva. "We failed in Europe and we deserve the criticism," said Haifa captain Yaniv Katan, who missed the Bordeaux match through injury, but is expected to be back in the lineup against Petah Tikva. "We need to maintain our focus in the league and show we are a strong team, starting from the encounter against Petah Tikva." Hapoel Petah Tikva has not won in nearly two months and has shown little improvement since Shavit Elimelech replaced Danny Niron as coach two weeks ago. "This is not an easy match," Katan stressed. "Petah Tikva can give us a tough time and we will not be underestimating them." Hapoel Tel Aviv has been in scintillating form on the field in recent months, but in the past week the club was rocked by a scandal away from the pitch. It all began last week when midfielder Shay Abutbul suspected that defender Omri Canada, with whom his was sharing a room during the team's trip to Scotland last week for the Europa League game against Celtic, had taken 450 pounds from his wallet. According to some reports the two exchanged blows after the midfielder confronted the defender, but regardless of what exactly unfolded the clash resulted in Canada being excommunicated by the rest of the squad. On Thursday, Canada apologized to his teammates and coach Eli Gutman told the players that the defender is "a part of the team". However, Canada is expected to leave Hapoel in the January transfer window, if not on a permanent basis than on loan. Tel Aviv will be confident of extending its winning streak to seven matches on Saturday when it visits Hapoel Acre. The Reds have won their last six games by a combined goal difference of 17-2, while Acre has won only once all season. However, the northern club is actually unbeaten in its last eight matches, winning once and drawing seven times. Former Aston Villa manager John Gregory guides Ahi Nazareth for the first time on Saturday, with Betar Jerusalem traveling up north to face the rock-bottom team. Betar finally returned to winning ways last week, beating Hapoel Ra'anana 3-1, and will be expecting to get the better of a newly promoted side once more on Saturday. Nazareth has lost nine of its first 12 matches, including its last six. Also Saturday, Bnei Yehuda will aim to close the gap on the top two with a victory over Hapoel Beersheba, Hapoel Haifa hosts Maccabi Petah Tikva and Hapoel Ramat Gan visits Hapoel Ra'anana. On Sunday, Bnei Sakhnin hosts Maccabi Netanya, with Maccabi Tel Aviv welcoming Ashdod SC on Monday.