Last night as I approached Maccabi Haifa’s Kiryat Eliezer Stadium there was a sense of big game in the air. One could feel it the closer they got to the dilapidated, out of date stadium which will be replaced next season in South Haifa by one that is absolutely state of the art with 25,000 seat.
But for tonight old Kiryat Eliezer would do just fine for Arik Benado’s charges as they completely decimated a reeling Hapoel Tel Aviv 3-0 on two goals by defender Dekel Keinan.
It seemed that the Hapoel squad that played Beitar Jerusalem just last week on their home soil at Bloomfield Stadium looked even worse on the road. With Toto Tamuz in the lineup, Affoula Adel & Djemba-Djemba out nothing clicked right for Yossi Abuksis the embattled Hapoel manager who just had to stand on the sidelines wondering at his age if he could have made a difference on the pitch.
For the Haifa fans a celebration of sorts was taking place. Here was a team who began the season under the leadership of new coach and former star Reuven Atar, but couldn’t figure out how to win or play concise football. Or did the players even want to for Atar?
That is really the $1 million dollar question because since Atar was shown the door and Arik Benado made his way to the Haifa sidelines, this is a completely different club.
Benado has been able to mold a squad with plenty of desire and ability into a championship contending team that is now in 2nd place just 5 points behind Maccabi Tel Aviv. Who could have thought this as possible way back in September and early October where Reuven Atar was just trying to keep Haifa above water.
Just watching Chen Ezra the new Haifa man from Maccabi Netanya move and groove, deeking out defenders left and right was a pleasure. Weam Amasha with his speed down the right side and the middle of field is a true striker, Young Alon Tourgeman scored a nice goal in the second half and ‘keeper Boris Sharanov came up big when he needed too, which was not too often on this evening.
Gustavo Bocculi playing in his 250th game looks to have new life and 10 years younger, as does captain Yaniv Katan whom coach Benado handed over the reigns to after not getting along too well with Reuven Atar earlier in the year.
What can be said?
I think Arik Benado summed it up best after the match when asked if he can start discussing Haifa being in championship race. “We discuss it on the field of play, not in words but in actions.”
I think he summed it up best for the players, fans and adversaries.
Nothing else was needed to be said.