Return to Bloomfield a happy one for Haifa

Ghadir’s head, Edri’s hands secure 1-0 victory for Greens over Mac TA.

MOHAMMAD GHADIR (photo credit: Maccabi Haifa Web site)
(photo credit: Maccabi Haifa Web site)
Three months after leaving Bloomfield Stadium in tears, Maccabi Haifa exorcised some of the demons from that heartbreaking night, beating Maccabi Tel Aviv 1-0 in its Premier League 2010/11 opener on Sunday.
It will be many years until Haifa players and fans live down the loss of the championship to Hapoel Tel Aviv in the final seconds of last season.
However, on Sunday, the team proved it will be a contender for the title yet again this season, even without key players from last year’s squad, including Dekel Keinan (Blackpool), Jorge Teixeira (FC Zurich), Biram Kiyal (Celtic) and Shlomi Arbeitman (K.A.A. Gent), who all left Haifa during the summer.
The surprising Europa League exit at the hands of Dinamo Minsk in the third qualifying round last month raised the alarms at Kiryat Eliezer, but if Sunday’s match is anything to go by, Haifa remains Hapoel Tel Aviv’s main rival for the league title and will challenge for the championship until the very end.
“We know we have an excellent team and that we can compete for all the titles,” said Mohammad Ghadir, who scored the winner in the 33rd minute.
“We’ve been through some difficult months, but I’m happy we came through it and we are now looking forward to the future.”
Haifa coach Elisha Levy was delighted with the three points.
"We deserved this victory and we’re not surprised from this win,” Levy said.
“This was a stern test and I’m pleased with the way we played.”
While at Haifa everyone is smiling once more, there were some worried faces among Tel Aviv’s players and staff after Sunday’s encounter. With a NIS 100 million budget and 11 new players in the squad, the yellow- and-blue have no intention of settling for anything less than the championship.
However, Tel Aviv was desperately poor on Sunday night, and might have lost striker Barak Itzhaki for at least six months after he was forced to leave the match in the 23rd minute with a suspected tear in his cruciate ligament.
“Barak is an important player, but injuries are part of the game,” Tel Aviv striker Roberto Colautti said.
“We are disappointed with this result. We failed to create chances and we must improve in that department so we can score.”
The hosts seized the initiative at the start of the encounter and reached their first chance after less than three minutes.
Haris Medunjanin squared the ball for Itzhaki, but the expensive recruit had his effort blocked by Haifa defender Ali Osman.
Tel Aviv continued to control the match in the subsequent minutes and Roberto Colautti was the next to squander a golden opportunity.
The Israel international, who passed a late fitness test to make the starting lineup, found himself with space and time inside the area, but he blasted his shot wide of Amir Edri’s goal.
Three minutes later, Haifa finally recorded its first chance of the night, with Eyal Golasa shooting straight at goalkeeper Liran Strauber.
Haifa was beginning to find its footing, and after Itzhaki had to be taken off with an injury, the Greens began to dominate.
Ghadir was tormenting the hosts with his penetrating runs and only a spectacular Strauber save in the 30th minute could deny him the opener.
However, there was nothing the yellow-and-blue ’keeper could do three minutes later, with Ghadir powerfully heading the ball into the bottom right corner.
Four minutes from the break, Maor Buzaglo had a chance to equalize, but his shot was saved by Edri and Haifa took a deserved lead into the interval.
Both sides tired in the second half and Tel Aviv struggled to even test Edri, who is playing in place of the injured starter Nir Davidovich.
Osman had to be alert to clear a Colautti header from the line in the 65th minute, but Haifa always seemed the likelier of the two teams to score the second goal of the night.
Ghadir on his own had three opportunities to clinch the victory, the best of which came in the 76th minute when he only had Strauber to beat, but took too long on the ball, allowing the ’keeper to clear the danger.
In the final 10 minutes, Tel Aviv substitute Eliran Atar had a couple of chances to give the hosts a point they didn’t deserve, but he squandered both and Haifa held on for a moral boosting three points.