Soccer Premier Lg. Preview Atar's Return Bodes Well for Mac. Haifa

Maccabi Haifa's first task is to get back to European competition.

Moshe Harush
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Moshe Harush

For years a group of fans at Maccabi Haifa soccer games have waved pictures of Reuven Atar the player, whose image cast a giant shadow over all the team's coaches over the past decade. These fans waited for the day when the king, who played for Maccabi Haifa from 1986 to 1994 and 2000 to 2002, would come home and take over the reins. Yaakov Shahar, the team owner, could not hold off any longer and gave in to their pleas this summer. The curls are back on the green bench; Atar has left Maccabi Netanya where he served as head coach on and off since 2004.

Maccabi Haifa's first task is to get back to European competition. It's six-year run in Europe ended this season. One missing piece is a back midfielder. Shahar said recently he is looking to fill this position. Atar said he has seen many back midfielders but has yet to find the one he is looking for. The coaching staff had targeted Beitar Jerusalem's Kobi Moyal, but acquiring him turned out to be too costly. Atar has left his options open by signing only three foreign players out of his allotment of five.

Catastrophe would have to strike for Atar's job to be in danger. He has solid backing from Shahar, who last fired a coach in the previous century. More importantly, the thousands in the stands who waited a decade for the prodigal son to return will give him a lot of leeway.

Atar finally won his first match with the when Maccabi Haifa thumped Bnei Sakhnin 6-0 in Toto Cup group play Saturday night. Having drawn its first two matches, Haifa finished second in Group 1 to advance to the next round. Fans got a taste of two of the team's acquisitions - Chen Ezra and Dino Ndlovu, who scored two goals in his debut. The 23-year-old Ezra was called up to the men's national team before he even got his first green jersey dirty. Fans hang a lot of hopes on the two, and the process of their adjustment to a major team seems promising. If Yaniv Katan, the team's captain, doesn't try to steal the attention - and there is no reason for this - they are likely to put Maccabi Haifa back on top.

Beitar ends Toto Cup run on high note

Beitar Jerusalem defeated Hapoel Ramat Gan 3-2 yesterday, providing a measure of solace after already being eliminated from the next round of soccer's Toto Cup competition in Group 3. Eran Levy scored a pair of goals in the fifth and 60th minutes, and Zahi Elihen added an insurance goal in the 90th minute.

David Manga equalized for Hapoel Ramat Gan, which won its previous two matches, to ensure its spot in the next round, in the 39th minute. Michael Zandberg scored a meaningless goal at the end of injury time.

In the other Toto Cup game last night, Maccabi Tel Aviv beat Maccabi Netanya 3-0 for bragging rights in Group 2. The two teams were tied going into the group finale. Gal Alberman scored a brace with goals in the 11th minute and injury time. Gonzalo Garcia scored the game's second goal.

Reuven Atar, left, coaching against Maccabi Haifa in 2011.Credit: Sharon Bukov

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