You know everything is going the right way when Ali Mohammed doesn’t score just one goal but two as Maccabi Haifa continued to mow down one opponent after the next as they steamroll along towards the UEFA Champions League group stages. With a 4-0 Greens win over an absolutely overmatched Apollon Limassol in first leg third round qualifying action, their second 4-0 win in a row at home, there is no reason to think anything less than the club’s first appearance in the world’s top club championship since the 2019/10 season.
While there is still a second leg in Cyprus and then the playoff round Haifa looks to be destined to play Red Star Belgrade (5-0 1st leg vs Pyunik) for the right to face the best of the best teams in Europe whether its Liverpool, Real Madrid, PSG, Manchester City or Barcelona.
Barak Bachar’s squad was the better team from the get go as it looked to be only just time until they would find the opener, break the ice and open the floodgates and that is exactly what happened in the 38th minute. Dolev Haziza’s tough angled shot glanced off of Mathieu Peybernes and behind Limassol keeper Aleksandar Jovanović for an own goal and a 1-0 lead.
Ali Mohammed who hadn’t scored in 3,156 minutes and in his 55th game with Haifa added the second and third goals of the match in style to the delight of the fans. His first came off of a gorgeous volley in the box off a Frantzdy Pierrot ball ten minutes into half number two, while the second was a powerful header thanks to a Dean David pass for a 3-0 lead in 62nd minute.
Haifa continued to pour on the offense and found the fourth goal when Pierrot’s diving header off a brilliant Haziza cross completed the scoring frenzy for the game as the second leg next week already looks to be for protocol only.
“This is a great start,” Bachar said following the blowout win. “But when you have so many chances you feel that you can score more and more and even a fifth goal. We continued our momentum from the last game but we still have to play a second match in order to advance.”
Should Haifa play as they did at Sammy Ofer in front of their raucous crowd or even at half strength they should easily take care of Limassol without too much problems. Bachar was correct in saying that his team could have scored more and more and more, but a 4-0 win is fair enough for most but for Haziza, there could have been even more goals in the win.
“Before the game Barak made sure that we were grounded and that we would be able to repeat our performance from last week and continue towards our ultimate goal. I believe we could have been even better and we missed out scoring a 5th and 6th goal, but we will take this win.”
The key to the win was as Haziza said that the coach made sure that they were focussed on one mission all for one and one for all. But it was also due to the fact that the Greens made sure to build their squad in a timely fashion and not only bring in the right complementary foreigners such as Pierre Conrud, Daniel Sundgren, Frantzdy Pierrot to go along with Tjaron Chery and Ali Mohammed but also have then signed, sealed and delivered with more than enough time to prepare properly something they were unable to do last season.
“We learnt some lessons from last season and we prepared properly this summer. We came into the Olympiacos tie playing the way we wanted to,” Bachar explained.
The preparation factor was no doubt key in the club’s success to date and it was something that Bachar no doubt paid close attention to during the final third of last season in order to get off to the start that everyone associated with the team wanted them to. A lot of hard work was done over the past couple of months and that’s why Haifa has looked so good so early on.
“No one thought it would be easy,” Bachar said. “We worked hard to make it look that way and we knew what the strengths and weaknesses of our opponent would be. We are going to play our game next leg because things can happen in football, you never know.”
Haziza agreed with his coach’s assessment of the situation, “There is never an easy game and we played well and worked hard to do so. I am happy that we are able to score that first goal that broke the ice and that allowed us to score a few more goals.”
Mohammed who scored his first career brace has been an important player for Haifa despite not finding the back of the goal until this game. Seven assists last year while being a bulldog in the middle of the pitch is exactly what one can expect of Mohammed who has also played for Maccabi Netanya and Beitar Jerusalem in Israel’s first division. In fact, Mohammed began his playing career in the Holy Land back in 2015 with Leumit League outfit Beitar Tel Aviv Ramla.
Bachar didn’t want to focus on Mohammed’s own performance but rather wanted to look at his club’s showing as a collective, “I can’t really look at one player or another in a game like this which was against a strong team. We did things right and when you do those types of things that Mohammed did like pressing, passing and taking the right chances like Ali did today, then things work out for the best.”
“I couldn’t believe that Ali scored not one, but two goals,” Haziza remarked. “He knows the game really well and I hope he can continue to score. We have to keep our heads up and continue on next week and play the same way that we did today.”
Should they play the same way, well then, it won’t be much of a match and they will easily cruise into the playoff round and from there who knows. The worst case scenario should Haifa lose will be that they are going to play in the Europa League group stages which is not that shabby either.
But right now, the dream is to be able to walk on the field, stand in line and hear one of the most famous anthems in sports history all else is irrelevant, “The win against Olympiacos? We were told to forget about it already a long time ago. We have to keep pushing and we want to make it to the group stages and hear the Champions League anthem. The players are not giving 100% but 400% to get to the group stages.”