Rule change lifts Haifa’s Uefa hopes

By Simon Griver, May 27, 2009

Maccabi Haifa will represent Israel in next season’s Uefa Champions League after clinching the Premier League title for the 11th time.

A 2-0 away win over Maccabi Netanya gave the Greens an unassailable lead over second-placed Hapoel Tel Aviv with one game remaining.

The title is a major triumph for manager Elisha Levy in his first year in charge.

Goals from Thembinkosi Fanteni and Biram Kiyal were enough to seal Maccabi’s fourth Israeli crown in six years and their first since winning three in a row between 2003 and 2006.

A delighted Levy said: “It’s hard to describe in words what I’m feeling. I haven’t had something like this. I came from Beit She’an to the great Haifa and delivered a championship in my first year. It’s a tremendous joy.

“It’s hard winning the championship if you’re not the best, and without a doubt we were the best team. I probably had to win a championship for them to say that I deserve to be a coach for the big teams.”

A restructuring of the Champions League qualifying competition dramatically improves Maccabi’s chances of a place in the lucrative group stage.

The last time Maccabi won the league in 2006, they faced Liverpool in the third qualifying round and despite taking a shock lead at Anfield, eventually went out 3-2 on aggregate.

However, the third qualifying round has now been divided into two sections with the stronger and weaker football nations separated. So if Maccabi reach the final qualifier, they are likely to face a team from a country such as Denmark or Austria.

Haifa did make the group stage in 2002/03 and although they did not progress, they enjoyed a 3-0 victory over Manchester United.

Last updated: 3:35pm, May 27 2009