Soccer / Premier League

New Morning for Maccabi Tel Aviv

After nine seasons sans a victory at Kiryat Eliezer, the champions are now six points clear of their most dangerous title rivals

While Arik Benado has drawn glowing admiration for his work at Maccabi Haifa since his appointment last season, Paulo Sousa was already criticized for his work with the champions. Some pundits said his team was weaker than last season; others said, minutes before the start of Monday's emphatic 3-0 win over Maccabi Haifa, that Sousa is a coward, approaching the game with three defensive midfielders and a lone striker, while Benado fielded two midfielders and two strikers. The 90 minutes that followed were a chastening experience for the home team, as well as for fans; it's not a matter of placing the players on the field, but rather what they do.

The meeting with Maccabi Tel Aviv was much more than another league game for Maccabi Haifa, and the owner Yaakov Shahar did his best to clarify this point to the players. As the minutes passed, Shahar seemed more aggravated than ever. Leading players such as Ruben Rayos and Yaniv Katan didn't really show up, Dino Ndlovu wasn't focused, and Gustavo Boccoli couldn't be expected to do everything on his own. Haifa's defense was in shambles. Benado, who in contrast to Sousa seemed calm, failed to react in the first half. The killer blow came in the second half — actually three killer blows. The title? Haifa is already six points behind the champions after only three games.

"This doesn't reflect the gap between the teams," Benado said after the game. "Today, specifically, Maccabi Tel Aviv was better. We weren't sharp in defense or offense. It happens. I wouldn't define it a crisis. It is, indeed, our third consecutive loss, but we have a good squad and that will show as the league continues."

On the other side, everything Sousa touched turned to gold. His trust in Barak Itzhaki, who was back in the starting 11, resulted in a goal. The belief that Rade Prica, who was relegated to the bench, might come good as a substitute, proved correct with two goals, one of them brilliant enough to cause hundreds of Haifa fans to leave the stadium in despair. Omri Ben Harush is beginning to look comfortable in the left-back position, and Eitan Tibi is becoming the best center-back in the league.

Even though Maccabi Tel Aviv falls short of being brilliant, it is a strong, talented team, and Sousa led the champions to a first victory in Haifa’s Kiryat Eliezer Stadium after nine lean years. "It's a difficult moment for them," Sousa summarized the evening his rivals went through.

Stats:

A first victory for Maccabi Tel Aviv against Maccabi Haifa at Kiryat Eliezer since May 22, 2004, after 10 losses and three draws.

Arik Benado's first home defeat as Maccabi Haifa coach, after 12 wins and three draws.

The last time Maccabi Tel Aviv beat Maccabi Haifa 3-0 was in April 2000.

The last time Maccabi Tel Aviv beat Maccabi Haifa at Kiryat Eliezer by a three-goal margin or more was in April 1992, 5-1.

If Maccabi Tel Aviv beats Kiryat Shmona in the next game it will be the third consecutive season it opens with four wins.

After the first three rounds of games of the league, three different teams have topped the table: Maccabi Haifa, Hapoel Be'er Sheva and Maccabi Tel Aviv

AP