Sinai Says: Mac Haifa's European success a double-edged sword

If the past is anything to go by, Tuesday's victory has all but ended the team's hopes of defending its Premier League title.

Allon sinai 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Allon sinai 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Maccabi Haifa's dramatic 4-3 victory on Tuesday night ensured the club at least eight more lucrative European fixtures this season. Unfortunately, if the past is anything to go by, it has also all but ended its hopes of defending its Premier League title. Haifa will only begin its local league campaign in two weeks time, but it is clear that the club's chances to win the championship suffered a fatal blow on Tuesday when you consider that no Israeli team has ever managed to simultaneously compete successfully on both the European and the local stage. Maccabi will next play in the fourth and final Champions League qualifying round, with a victory putting it through to the prestigious group stage. However, a defeat in the qualifying playoffs will still guarantee the club six more continental matches, with the losers in the final Champions League qualifying round being handed an automatic berth to the Europa League group stage. On the face of it, Haifa faces a win-win situation. However, as Israeli soccer history clearly shows, extended continental campaigns take a hefty toll on local clubs and effectively ensure failure in league play. The first team to suffer locally from its success abroad was Haifa. In the 1998/99 season, Haifa played a total of eight European matches before being knocked out in the quarterfinals of the horrendously-named Cup Winners Cup. However, the star-studded squad, which included Yossi Benayoun among others, only managed to finish third in the league. Three seasons later, Hapoel Tel Aviv played some 12 matches on its way to the quarterfinals of the UEFA Cup and as a result ran out of steam and failed to keep pace with Haifa in the title race. Perhaps the greatest Haifa team of all-time, which was the first Israeli side to reach the Champions League group stage in the 2002/03 season, also failed to win the championship, despite clearly having the strongest squad in the league. Any hope Maccabi Tel Aviv's mediocre squad had of challenging for the league title in the 2004/05 season was also pretty much dashed after the team advanced to the Champions League group stage. Haifa and Hapoel also struggled terribly in the league in the 2006/07 season after both did surprisingly well in the UEFA Cup. Israeli clubs don't have the resources needed to build big enough squads to cope with the demands of both a European and a local campaign. Playing twice a week for nearly half a season has proven to be too difficult for local teams, and it is hard to see this ordinary Haifa team bucking the trend. Haifa's players and staff have plenty of exciting continental experiences to look forward to, but their victory on Tuesday is bad news as far as their league campaign is concerned. Betar Jerusalem and Hapoel Tel Aviv, who will likely be Haifa's main challengers for the championship this season, were very happy to see their rival do well on Tuesday and that has nothing to do with Israeli soccer solidarity.