Local Soccer: Mac Haifa aiming for comeback

It's been a rocky ride for Maccabi Haifa since it last won the Israeli Premier League in 2006.

Maccabi Haifa 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Maccabi Haifa 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
It's been a rocky ride for Maccabi Haifa since it last won the Israeli Premier League in 2006. That was Haifa's fifth title in six years. However, its dynasty seemed to come to an end last season after a lackluster performance in the league, in which the Greens struggled to a fifth place finish. In the summer there was a significant turnover in players, but the club just couldn't seem to get anything together. The hope was that this season all the loose parts would fit. That dream was shattered when Maccabi lost its first three games of the season. However, recent events suggest the team's fortunes could be changing. In the summer of 2006 Betar Jerusalem poached a couple of Haifa's best players, when Michael Zandberg and Arik Benado joined the yellow and black at Teddy Stadium. But earlier this month two Betar players went the other way. Unsettled midfielder Omri Afek was transferred to Haifa along with left back Eliran Danin. The acquisition of Afek has already proved a canny buy. His goal late in the game against Kiryat Shmoneh, which earned Haifa a 1-0 win on October 20, gave the club a vital boost in its attempt to climb up the rankings. "I had a very warm welcome to the team and it has been a very good start, especially with my goal against Kiryat Shmoneh," Afek told The Jerusalem Post. "There has been a very large changeover of players, and there is a large process to deal with each change. "It looks better every month. We have high ambitions and things are going the right way for us now." Afek said that it has been a big change for him, moving from one big club to another, especially considering the rivalry between Haifa and Betar. But, he said he sees it as a big step in his career and, furthermore, feels like he is coming full circle. "I was actually a huge Maccabi Haifa fan as a child," he recalled. "When I was 13, I even participated in a program where youth get to "Meet the Stars", and I got to meet Maccabi [players]. When you join a league, things change for how you feel about teams; you can't be a fan anymore. But I am very happy to be in Haifa now." Danin also seems to have made a positive start with the club in the north. "It's a great feeling to be in Haifa," he said. "I was with Betar for five years, so of course I had friends there and it is difficult to leave them, but I'm making friends with my team and everything is going really well." However, after winning three games in a row, Haifa was beaten by Maccabi Netanya on Saturday night, something of a setback. The team will have to quickly put the loss behind it, and the preparation for their crucial game against champion Betar next week has already begun. The match against Betar on Sunday in Haifa will be a telling indicator of whether Maccabi is heading down the road to rehabilitation that the fans hope to see. A win will still leave Haifa with a seven point margin to make up. However it could signal that this time it is Haifa which has made the transfer coups and that Betar have an opponent worthy of looking over their shoulders for.