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Maccabi Haifa searching for answers in Champions League tie against Ħamrun Spartans

Israeli champions lose star players in the close season

Ħamrun Spartans will open their Champions League campaign on Tuesday against Israeli side Maccabi Haifa at the Centenary Stadium (kick-off: 8pm).

The Israeli champions are heading into the new season with several changes to their squad and the technical staff and the first qualifying round first leg this week will be the perfect opportunity to gauge their potential.

The 2022-23 season was a fairtytale campaign for Maccabi after they managed to reach the group stages of the Champions League, where they were up against some of the continent powerhouses in Juventus, Paris Saint Germain and Benfica.

Their highlight point during their Euro participation was a 2-0 win over Massimiliano Allegri’s Juventus in front of their fans.

The team went on to keep their stranglehold on the Israeli title last May after securing a third successive leagute title.

During the close season, the team underwent a significant facelift both in terms of their squad and the technical staff.

The biggest loss suffered by Maccabi Haifa was the departure of first-team coach Barak Bakr who left the club to join Serbian giants Red Star Belgrade.

He was replaced by the club’s youth coach Masai Dago.

Dago’s appointment was met by a few eyebrows by the club’s fans who were hoping a lucrative appointment would be made by Haira’s top hierarchy.

Their biggest concern is Dago’s lack of experience at a senior level but Maccabi’s new coach is determined to make his appointment work.

Dago is being assisted by Dushan Matovitch, who was Haim Silves’ assistant at Hapoel Tel Aviv, and Shahar Wiesinger.

Of more concern to the Maccabi Haifa fans is the club’s transfer business so far.

Attacking midfielder Dia Saba has agreed a new five-year contract extension that will see him pocket €600,000 per season.

On the other hand, goalkeepers Josh Cohen and Roi Misfhat have both left the club.

Dylan Batinsika have moved to Portuguese side Famalicao while Mohammed Abu Fani has agreed a move to Hungarian giants Ferencvaros.

Omar Atzili, the team’s star player, has also parted ways with the club as he agreed a lucrative move to the United Arab Emirates where he joined Al-Ain.

Maccabi’s biggest signing of the summer so far has been the return of Lior Rafalov who spent the past 12 years in Belgium with Anderlecht but Israeli journalists are concerned by the club’s failure to replace their departing stars.

Itamar Nitzan is expected to be named as the team’s regular goalkeeper ahead of the young talent of Sherif Kiur.

Upfront, the club is hopeful they can bank on Souf Podgorano who missed the majority of last season due to injury but the team is still looking for reinforcements up front.

On paper, Maccabi Haifa still start as firm favourites against Ħamrun Spartans but can the Malta champions profit from the fact that their opponents have yet to find their feet and spring a surprise?

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