Maccabi Haifa personnel folded up the press board and awning following their post match press conference in what seemed to be record time, as quickly as the Greens closed up their Europa League campaign this season. Marko Balbul’s squad had a cup of coffee in continental play as they got by Mura but succumbed to Strasbourg.
The fans may have hoped that their club would have pulled off a miracle just like their team did back in 1998 when Yossi Benayoun and Alon Mizrachi led the Greens over Paris Saint Germain in their two legged tie that was played at Parc des Princes and Kiryat Eliezer. But this wasn’t 1998 and it wasn’t PSG but Strasbourg who although is one of 6 French sides to have won all three available titles in the country but also a team that had languished in the lower divisions between 2011 and 2017 after going bankrupt.
However, there is optimism in the Haifa camp and rightfully so. Take away the red card handed to Eyad Habshi in the first leg and maybe, just maybe, the Greens make it past the Ligue 1 side. Actually, not just maybe but most probably. Balbul should be pleased with his team’s performance over the two legs, from their character to their effort, Haifa for most of the match seemed to be the better team.
Haifa is still under construction, that is certain with many holes still needing to be filled but all in all the squad that took to the Sammy Ofer pitch on Thursday night could have easily disposed of Maccabi Tel Aviv who fell to Cluj earlier in the week in Champions League qualifying play.
The players were fresh, young, exciting as last season’s second place finisher looked like a team that could challenge the Yellow & Blue for the 2019/20 league title. To top it off, only one foreigner was in the starting lineup with just two on the bench; now that’s impressive.
However, should Haifa have had some quality foreigners that would have played they would have once again most probably advanced to the third round and that’s a pity. But let’s not cry over spilt milk. The experience gained by Maxim Plakushchenko, Yarden Shua, Mohammed Awad and Yuval Ashkenazi could go a long way this coming season.
Balbul will certainly bring in at least two foreign players and as he said it will be done patiently and not just to bring someone in for the sake of bringing someone in. That’s the right way to build a squad. His players are hungry and ready to succeed, that was clear as day against Strasbourg, especially coming back after giving up an early goal.
He also received some pleasant surprises from Rami Gershon, Allyson dos Santos and Ofir Arad. The three central defenders played not only extremely well on the defensive side of the game, but Arad assisted on Shua’s goal while Dos Santos had a brilliant assist to Nikita Rukvytsa when the Brazilian lofted a ball over what seemed like a million Strasbourg players right to the naturalized Israeli who slammed the ball home. A classic of a goal by a classic striker.
The coach is well aware of the fact that his players need to play just as they did in Europe in the league as well and made that point to the media following the clash. He praised their character as being worthy of a Maccabi Haifa player and those who can help this team for years to come.
Haimov knew that not advancing was a bit of a missed opportunity but also praised the fans for cheering them on throughout the 90+ minutes as well as singing an impassioned Hatikva prior to the game. He also wants to have stability, confidence and quiet throughout the season so that way he can help the club as much as he possibly can. Fight and heart were two other attributes the Maccabi Tel Aviv youth product pointed out as being keys to what he feels can be taken from the two matches against Strasbourg into the league.
Should the terrific “European Football Night” that was witnessed at Sammy Ofer Stadium between Maccabi Haifa and Strasbourg carryover into the season, then there should be plenty of optimism and rightfully so. The Greens seemed to have put the league on notice three weeks before the 2019/20 campaign begins and they will only get better. The rest of the teams have been put on notice. There won’t be another campaign that will end in March but most probably midway through May. Let the games begin.