maccabi haifa 88.
(photo credit: )
Maccabi Haifa lost 2-1 to Liverpool in the first leg of their European Champions League third round qualifier on Wednesday night.
Chilean Mark Gonzalez scored the winner for Liverpool in the 88th, finding the net from eight yards out. It was his first goal for the club, and he scored just minutes after coming on as a substitute.
Brazilian Gustavo Boccoli gave Maccabi Haifa a 1-0 lead in the 29th and Craig Bellamy got his first official goal for Liverpool, in the 33rd.
The second leg is likely to be played in Cyprus after UEFA ruled it was too dangerous to play in war-torn Israel.
Haifa has had the worst imaginable preparation for its European Champions League third round qualifier. Players have been forced to leave their homes due to the rocket attacks and the team has been training in "exile" in Caesarea.
Maccabi has played poorly in its pre-season matches and has looked nothing like the team that won three straight Israeli championships.
"We know the balance of power between us and Liverpool," Maccabi coach Roni Levy said after his team's training session in England. "Liverpool is playing at home and it will be a very difficult match but we will do the maximum.
"We have been preparing for two months and have played numerous friendly matches. We have studied our opponent and we will be ready for the match."
Despite being the clear favorite, the Liverpool players were not complacent.
"We've got to remember we've been drawn against one of the toughest sides we could have got," Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher said.
"They've a lot of experience in the group stage and they're much stronger than the sides we've played in the past in this round.
"All we've got to focus on is making sure we get through, because it means so much to us, not only in terms of playing in the Champions League, but financially."
Liverpool coach Rafael Benitez has met Haifa in the past with his previous team Valencia and warned that the match might not be as easy for his team as many believe.
"We know this is a very dangerous game for us. Offensively they have a lot of quality. We know it's not going to be easy for us," Benitez said. "When you are playing your first game against a side many of your players have not seen before, you never know what's going to happen until the game starts."
As if the task of knocking Liverpool out wasn't difficult enough, UEFA made it even harder on Monday when it ruled that Haifa won't be able to host its home game in Israel in two weeks time.
The tie has been fraught with controversy since the draw was made on 28 July. Benitez immediately made it clear that he believed Liverpool should not travel to Israel due to the ongoing conflict in the North of the country, and has expressed his relief at UEFA's decision.
"It was important they said we will not travel to Israel, and that's the right decision," he said. "Now we need to know as soon as possible where the game will be played. It's important our supporters will know where it will be so they can prepare to come and watch us."
Anti-war activists are planning to stage a demonstration before the match to protest Israel's military campaign in Lebanon. The demonstration is being organized by a group called "Friends of Palestine" in conjunction with trade unionists on Merseyside.
Local police are not taking any chances and Maccabi's visit to England has been accompanied by an unprecedented level of security with a police escort following the team constantly.
Only a few hundred Haifa fans traveled with the team to Liverpool, but Levy feels his team is representing far more then the team's regular following.
"I feel like we are the ambassadors for Israel in these difficult days," the coach said. "Everybody in Israel knows how to unite in difficult times and I hope we can give them a brief moment of joy."
On TV: Liverpool vs Maccabi Haifa (live at 10 p.m. on Channel 10).
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