Twenty-four hours before Maccabi Haifa's first game against Belgian Genk in the Champions League playoffs, Haifa's coach Elisha Levy isn't sure what mood his team's rivals will be in. Genk's coach Frank Vercauteren confirmed last week that he will leave Genk and sign with Abu Dhabi club Al Jazira FC. Levy wasn't sure last night if this was a good omen for his team or not.
"It could affect them mentally," he said, "but on the other hand they might really go mental against us. We still have a lot of areas where we must improve, and we too are missing players. The chances are even."
Vercauteren is due to leave the Belgian team after the first leg against Haifa. Genk landed last night in Israel without its best player, Kevin De Bruyne, and without striker Marvin Ogunjimi. On top of that, Genk will be missing Anele Ngcongca and Anthony Vanden Borre due to suspension. Genk striker, Israeli Elyaniv Barda, naturally dominated the press conference: "It's a special feeling to play here in Israel," he said. "We expect a tough battle. Haifa has more experience than us, but the fact that the game will be played in Ramat Gan and not in Haifa might work in our favor."
Maccabi Haifa sources expressed disappointment over the fact that only 20,000 tickets were sold as of yesterday.
Vercauteren did his best to deflect the suggestion that Maccabi Haifa was not the favorite. "There are some teams who deserve more respect than they get," he said. "Maccabi Haifa is a strong rival. We're not scared, but we are focused on this crucial game. Every player in the squad should be mentally prepared to fill in for those players who are missing."
When asked who will come in for the missing and suspended players, he said, "Maybe Barda will have to take the place of three players."
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