My first reaction after the Maccabi Haifa v Maccabi Netanya match was, WOW! This is exactly what the Israel Football League, Ligat Ha’Al is all about. The second half of this match was the really the best of what Israel can offer. Super end to end action, terrific chances, drama, great players scoring and a comeback by one of Israel best and top franchises, Maccabi Haifa.
After a first half that Haifa would have liked to forget against their rival for an upper playoff spot Maccabi Netanya, Haifa’s coach Marko Balbul was about to make a change that would have and could have altered the final result. But with everything in sports that’s why the games are played and as they say that sports in some cases is also a game of inches.
With the second half underway and Haifa unable to kick start his offense, Balbul prepared to bring on striker Alon Turgeman for most probably an inept Eliran Atar, who couldn’t seem to find his scoring shoes. Atar looked lethargic, upset and frustrated out on the pitch standing with his hands on his hips during the course of play in some cases and not looking like he was putting in an effort in other ones. But just as Turgeman made his way to the 4th official, stretched and indicated he was ready to go in, “IT” happened.
“IT” was what Haifa had been searching for all evening against a tough Roni Levy coached Netanya side. When Taleb Tawhatha’s errant shot was deflected by Yarin Hassan right to an oncoming Atar who unleashed a vicious blast that sent the ball right into the goal and gave The Green faithful something to cheer about. It also sent Turgeman back to the bench giving Balbul a few minutes to digest what had just happened.
“IT” didn’t seem like just any old goal. No “IT” was Atar’s 4th in the past 3 matches and first at Sammy Ofer Stadium sending the supporters into a frenzy as Haifa drew even with Netanya. But “IT” was just the start for Haifa.
“IT” is no secret that Haifa captain Yossi Benayoun has not had the year that he and the club envisioned. Benayoun had been hurt, inconsistent, tired and just not as skilled as he once had been while playing in England. But one also has to remember that “Father Time” doesn’t wait around for anybody. You just get older and it doesn’t matter what you do, be it an accountant, doctor, firefighter or footballer your skills begin to erode and you can’t do what you used to be able to do. This is also unfortunately the case with Yossi.
After missing an incredible chance in the first half Benayoun looked like a man on a mission. He was going to find a way to win at any & all costs and win indeed is what he did. Benayoun turned back the clock just as Elyaniv Barda did the night before against Kiryat Shemona.
He looked for a goal and he finally found “IT” with Eliran Atar heading the ball to the captain as Yossi Benayoun slammed it home behind a helpless Netanya ‘keeper in Ariel Harush. His first home goal at the brand new Sammy Ofer Stadium. Benayoun was stunned, shocked & in absolute disbelief as he ran to celebrate with teammates to the side of the goal. But celebrating was not the only thing he did. Benayoun began to cry.
Tears of joy? Tears of happiness? A combination of both for Benayoun had finally looked like the player he was brought to be this season. He was brought to lead Haifa and challenge the top sides for a place in Europe. Can Yossi take his team and lead them to the promised land?
They sure have a way to go in order to find their way into the upper playoffs. Is “IT” possible? With Yossi Benayoun leading the way the only way he knows how and can, anything is possible.