Bellamy ready for Reds competitive debut

Striker Craig Bellamy, one of Liverpool’s summer-signings, is set to make his competitive debut on Wednesday in a competition he knows is special to the Reds. Liverpool take on Maccabi Haifa in the first leg of their Champions League qualifier at Anfield. He knows how special the competition is to the club although he was only a very young child as they picked up numbers three and four of the five. He recalls: “I was brought up a Liverpool fan, and I was a schoolboy when they were winning championships and the European Cup. I don’t know about anyone else here, but I believe Liverpool should be about winning every game, not just some. Every one.”

He continued: “When I was a kid Liverpool were winning the European Cup regularly, as well as doubles and trebles. That is what this club should be about. And I want to play and do well in the Champions League. Liverpool won the trophy a year ago and I was delighted for them. Now I am looking forward to my chance to play for them in the tournament.”

The first leg, at Anfield, is all-important and of course Liverpool will want to end their two-game losing streak from their last two friendly matches. The decision on the location for the return leg will be announced by UEFA on Monday. Two of the venues being spoken of if the tie is switched from Israel are Ukraine and Holland.

Haifa are no strangers to playing “home” European ties on neutral soil.
They beat Manchester United 3-0 in Cyprus four years ago in the group
stages. It was the first time an Israeli side had managed a place in
the lucrative phase of the competition, and they also managed a win and
a draw against Olympiakos in the same season in the same tournament.

Reds manager Rafa Benítez knows how tough the side can be. Three years
ago Haifa were forced to play their “home” leg in Rotterdam, and Rafa’s
Valencia side managed a 4-0 win. However they’d gone into that game
with some concern, after being held to a scoreless draw in Spain for
the first leg. That second leg was only moved to Rotterdam after the
original choice for a neutral venue, Istanbul, had also been the target
of bombings. Of course Rafa got his night of glory in Istanbul in 2005
when he won the tournament their with the Reds.

Haifa’s boss is Roni Levy and he’s looking forward to finally getting a
chance to play the Reds: “Drawing Liverpool means coming full circle
for us. We should have played them three seasons ago when we qualified
for the third qualifying round having beaten Haka of Finland. But we
were then thrown out of the competition because of an ineligible

He also recalls the last time he faced Rafa Benítez as his opposite
number: “I have also memories of meeting Benítez before. He was in
charge at Valencia when we drew in Spain. The odds are against us but
sometimes when you catch a big club early on the season you can produce
a shock.”

Rafa Benítez is aware of the possibility of a shock, especially after
the defeat against Mainz on Friday night. Although the 5-0 scoreline
was heavy, it wasn’t a game where the result really mattered: “The only
positive to take from the game in Mainz is that it was a pre-season
match,” he said. “It is clear that we made a lot of mistakes and gifted
them a lot of goals, but it wasn’t an official game.”

Rafa will be looking to his side to avoid the mistakes that have
riddled pre-season: “In the first half I thought we were the stronger
side but after the break we made too many mistakes. In fact we have
made mistakes in all three of our European friendlies and that’s not
normal for us. It’s not normal to see Liverpool conceding so many goals
and that’s why I’m not too worried. We know we need to correct things.
We need to analyse why things have been going wrong and work hard to
fix them.”

It’s back to Melwood now and maybe the players will feel a change in
emphasis by the fact they are back on their own turf: “When we get home
we can start a new week with a new mentality and a new idea and I’m
sure we’ll be much better on Wednesday when the official games begin.”