It’s a dark time for Boston sports fans. Despite the Patriots’ usual dominance, the epic collapse of the Red Sox, the wholly uninspiring start of the Bruins’ season, the last-place finish of the Revolution, and the terrible campaign of the BC Eagles in NCAA football are weighing heavily on the hearts and minds of New Englanders. Heck, even local gymnast Alicia Sacramone has an Achilles injury and will miss the World Championships in gymnastics.
And how could I not mention our most successful hometown franchise, the Celtics? In case you’ve noticed (and most people actually don’t care), the labor dispute in the NBA may cost basketball fans at least half of the season, if not all of it.
While the Celtics remain in NBA lock-out lock-down with no end in sight, for those of us desperate for a green-and-white team to root for, there’s good news, as Maccabi Haifa continues its campaign in European football in the UEFA Europa League. The Champions League it most surely is not, as the Greens booted away a ticket to the group stages in that illustrious competition during an excruciating penalty kick loss in August, but it’s still several steps above the Israeli domestic league and gets our sister city’s marquee team some global exposure.
The start of the domestic league’s season has been decidedly middling for Maccabi Haifa, who have only managed twelve points from their first eight matches and are currently in sixth place. But the Europa League group stage is going much better, as Maccabi have two wins from their first three matches and now sit comfortably in second position as they prepare for the second set of fixtures against FC Schalke (Germany), FC Steaua Bucuresti (Rumania), and AEK Larnaca (Cyprus)
Thursday was a banner day for Maccabi Haifa as they delivered a decisive 5:0 victory over Steaua in front of the home crowd at Kiryat Eliezer. Yaniv Katan’s penalty kick in the 38th minute (following a red card shown to Steaua’s Eric Bikfalvi) complemented Weeam Amasha’s two goals and a goal each from Taleb Twatha and Idan Vered for the one-sided victory.
Maccabi now sits solidly in second place in Group J, one point behind Schalke, four points above Steaua, and five points up on the Cypriots.
Two domestic league matches lie ahead this weekend and next before they pay a visit to Bucharest for the second match against Steaua on November 3. With a win in Romania, their advance to the next round of the Europa League looks like a sure thing.
Unfortunately, Europa League games are hard to find on TV, and only the more recognizable teams have their games on Fox Soccer or GOL TV. If Maccabi keeps winning, there’s a chance we’ll see some later-stage games, and rest assured I’ll let you know about them. In the meantime, unless you subscribe to the Israeli channel on your cable package or DirecTV/Dish Network, you’ll be stuck watching them on UEFA Match Centre.
But if you do want a sneak peek at Maccabi Haifa, check out this catchy video short that Nike put together as a part of their Facebook Nike Football Israel campaign. Now that Maccabi’s jerseys are made my Nike (after a long stint with Puma and Lotto), hopefully this is the beginning of some better marketing and branding for the club. “The Green Way to Glory” is a little over the top, but the video is pretty sweet.
It’s not all good news for Israeli soccer teams in the Europa League. HaPoel Tel Aviv has been demolished in its first three games and sits at the bottom of Group C with zero points, and Maccabi Tel Aviv also dwells in last place in Group E with only draw to show for out of their first three games.