Greens visit Larnaca hoping to secure advancement; Mac TA seeks first group win.
By ALLON SINAIPublished: DECEMBER 1, 2011 14:37Advertisement
After getting its Premier League title defense back on track, Maccabi Haifa sets its sights on advancing to the Europa League round-of-32 when it visits AEK Larnaca in Nicosia on Thursday night.Haifa finally managed to win two consecutive matches in the league when it defeated Hapoel Acre 1-0 on Saturday to climb to fourth place in the standings, five points back of league-leader Hapoel Tel Aviv.Despite suffering a disappointing 4-2 defeat to 10-man Steaua Bucharest in its most recent continental match four weeks ago, the Greens are still well placed in Group J.A win for Haifa in Cyprus combined with a draw or better for Schalke 04 when it hosts Steaua on Thursday will see Elisha Levy’s team secure its progress to the knockout rounds with a match to spare.However, while the unbeaten Schalke is widely expected to avoid defeat in Germany, Haifa will have to reverse its recent trend in European road matches to get the result it is looking for.The Greens have not won in nine games on their travels in Europe, losing eight times and only drawing once since beating Red Bull Salzburg 2-1 in the Champions League playoffs in August 2009.“Everyone knows we are facing a crucial week,” said Haifa midfielder Seidu Yahaya, whose team visits Hapoel Tel Aviv in a crunch league showdown next Monday.“We need to maintain consistency.We can’t beat Hapoel and then lose to another team in the league and expect to win the championship. We need the three points in Larnaca and we will give our all to win.”Haifa, which hosts Schalke in its final group match, beat Larnaca 1-0 when the teams met in their group opener at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium and the Cypriots have since collected just two points, drawing with Steaua at home and against Schalke on the road.Larnaca will be guided by interim coach Demetris Demetriou after sacking former Betar Jerusalem and Maccabi Tel Aviv coach Ton Caanen, who steered the promoted side to fourth place in 2010/11 but got this season off to a poor start.Haifa striker Weeam Amasha, who has so far scored 19 goals in 25 matches in all competitions this season, will be in an upbeat mood on Thursday after learning on Wednesday that he will be able to play for the Israel national team.Israel coach Luis Fernandez has been tracking Amasha since last season, but being from Buq’ata in the Golan Heights, the striker refuses to accept Israeli citizenship.Buq’ata was captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War and the community leaders imposed a socio-religious ban on Israeli citizenship when the Knesset passed the Golan Heights Law in 1981.It is estimated that fewer than 10 percent of the Golan Druze are currently Israeli citizens, with the locals choosing instead to hold on to their Syrian citizenship.Amasha played for Israel’s under-19 and under-21 national teams, traveling abroad with a Travel Document which requires him to receive a visa from any country he visits.However, international football’s governing body FIFA has since changed its laws, requiring players to hold full citizenship and a passport of the country they represent.Amasha has said he wants to play for Israel, but refused to make a move that would result in him being excommunicated.The Israel Football Association approached FIFA asking for special dispensation that will allow him to play for Israel even without a passport to his name and the final approval was given on Wednesday.Despite only picking up a single point in its first four group matches, Maccabi Tel Aviv has still got a theoretical chance of reaching the round of 32 ahead of its encounter against Besiktas JK at Bloomfield Stadium on Thursday.Maccabi is rock-bottom of Group E, but a win over the Turks as well as a victory for Stoke City against Dynamo Kiev on Thursday will keep its hopes of advancing alive.However, considering Maccabi has lost three straight league matches, including against Hapoel Tel Aviv on Sunday, and Besiktas thrashed the yellow-and-blue 5-1 when they met in Turkey, Thursday’s encounter is first and foremost about pride.Besiktas matched its best previous European home win and inflicted a repeat of Maccabi’s heaviest continental defeat on matchday one and can take a big step towards the next stage with a win on Thursday.Tel Aviv was thoroughly outplayed in its successive defeats to Stoke, but it will be hoping for a positive result on Thursday that will help it climb out of its current rot and get its league campaign back on track when it visits Hapoel Haifa on Sunday.Hapoel Tel Aviv, which had already lost any chance of progressing, visited Rapid Bucharest in Europa League Group C action late Wednesday night.
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