Mac Haifa in precarious spot vs Maribor

Greens up 2-1 heading into 2nd leg in Slovenia, but may need away-goal to advance.

Maribor Haifa 311 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Maribor Haifa 311
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
It has become somewhat of a recurring theme.
In each of the last two offseasons, relentless rumors backed by anonymous quotes insist that Maccabi Haifa has been looking to off-load Vladimir Dvalishvili in the hope of finding a better striker.
However, ultimately, when the season arrives, the Georgian is still part of the squad and he answers his critics by saving his team’s blushes time and again.
The 25-year-old scored five goals in six matches to help Haifa to the Champions League group stage in 2009/10, and had it not been for his excellent play in recent weeks Maccabi would have been entering Wednesday night’s third qualifying round return leg at NK Maribor in a far worse situation.
Haifa takes a 2-1 lead into the second leg in Slovenia after recording a fortuitous victory at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium last week.
Maribor dominated the Greens for large periods last week, but a successful penalty by Dvalishvili and Dela Yampolsky’s winner, scored from an assist by the Georgian, gave Haifa real hope of making the playoff round from which the winners will advance to the group stage.
With three goals and two assists in Haifa’s three Champions League qualifiers to date, Dvalishvili has silenced the speculation regarding his imminent departure and he is set to start once more on Wednesday.
However, Haifa will be without captain Yaniv Katan, who is still suffering with his back, and defender Andriy Pylyavskyi, who is expected to be out for around two months after injuring his ankle in training.
The 19-year-old Sari Falach is likely to take the Ukrainian’s place in the center of the defense, while Gustavo Boccoli and Seidu Yahaya are set to return the middle of the field after serving a onematch suspension in the first leg.
Hen Azriel, signed from Betar Jerusalem for one million dollars on Monday, flew out to Slovenia with the team but will only be able to play for the Greens in European competition should they progress to the next round.
Haifa followed up its disappointing display against Maribor with a 2-1 loss to Ironi Kiryat Shmona in its Toto Cup opener on Saturday, but coach Elisha Levy wasn’t too concerned with the result after resting many of his starters.
“We didn’t expect to start our local season like this. We don’t like to lose,” Levy said. “We rested players who needed a break and we gave minutes to those who needed to play.
“We had some good minutes, but our focus was always on Wednesday’s match.”
After proving last week that it is at least as good as Haifa, Maribor is brimming with confidence ahead of the second leg, despite having to overturn a 2-1 deficit.
“We are expecting a tough match, but we have a good chance to progress and we are optimistic,” Maribor coach Darko Milanic said. “It will be a long 90 minutes, but we believe we can do it with the help of our fans.
“We will try to repeat our performance from Haifa, but hopefully this time we will be able to also avoid being caught off guard.”