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Levi books Haifa's place at top table

Maccabi Haifa FC coach Elisha Levi said he was "delighted to have maintained a great tradition" after leading the Israeli side back into the group stage following Tuesday's 3-0 win against FC Salzburg.

Haifa are galloping towards the group stage again
Haifa are galloping towards the group stage again ©Getty Images

Elisha Levi said he was "delighted to have maintained a great tradition" after leading Maccabi Haifa FC back into the group stage, with Tuesday's 3-0 victory against Austrian champions FC Salzburg completing a 5-1 UEFA Champions League play-off success.

'Historic moment'
In only his second season in charge at Haifa – and his first in European competition – the 51-year-old Levi became the third coach to lead an Israeli side into the group stage. "It's a historic moment for this club," he said. "I am delighted to have maintained a great tradition and lead the club to the group stage for the second time."

Long way round
Itzhak Shum was the pioneer in 2002, as Haifa became the first Israeli side to go that far, with Nir Klinger matching his achievement with Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC two seasons later. Unlike Shum and Klinger, who had fine playing careers, with 78 and 83 international appearances respectively, Levi went into coaching with little reputation. He started out at hometown club Hapoel Be'it Shea'an FC and then the likes of Hapoel Rishon LeZion FC, Ashdod FC and Bnei Sakhnin FC before being given a chance at Haifa.

'Tough route'
"As a coach, I had to take the long, tough route which began with tiny Beit Shea'an before arriving at a giant club like Haifa," Levi reflected. "I thanked Haifa owner Ya'akov Schahar for handing me the opportunity, and repaid him by winning the title and reaching the cup final. We set our sights on the Champions League and now we are staring the group stage in the face."

Second chance
Having missed Haifa's previous group-stage campaign with a long-term knee injury, goalkeeper Nir Davidovitch is delighted he will finally get his chance in the competition. "We reached the Champions League which is hard to take in," he said. "This is one of the things which has been missing in my career and I'm delighted to have fulfilled this dream."

Meteoric rise
A scorer in both legs, 18-year-old Mohammad Ghadir had a different perspective on Haifa's big achievement. "Last season I was still playing youth team football at Haifa," he said. "This season, my debut season in the senior side, I am scoring goals in Europe and dreaming of scoring in the Champions League at grounds like the Santiago Bernabéu and Old Trafford."