Maccabi Haifa blanked by Benfica

Greens' can't find groove in Champions League opener in Portugal, with Messi and PSG up next

 Maccabi Haifa Champions League story by Joshua Halickman on page 8 – Picture of Maccabi Haifa vs Benfica (photo credit: RODRIGO ANTUNES/REUTERS)
Maccabi Haifa Champions League story by Joshua Halickman on page 8 – Picture of Maccabi Haifa vs Benfica
(photo credit: RODRIGO ANTUNES/REUTERS)

Maccabi Haifa fell to Benfica 2-0 in Portugal late Tuesday night to get the UEFA Champions League group stage campaign off to a rough start.

After a goalless first half that saw the Greens go toe-to-toe with the Lisbon giants, Barak Bachar’s side allowed a pair of lightning-quick goals early in the second half to put Haifa into a hole that it couldn’t dig out of.

“It’s never honorable to lose, but we gave our maximum and we played at a very high pace."

Barak Bachar

Over the course of a first half that saw few chances, Haifa midfielder Ali Mohamed had to be substituted off with an injury in the 32nd minute, which handcuffed the Greens’ attack and limited their offensive abilities.

Maccabi Haifa teammates Frantzdy Pierrot (9) and Omer Atzily celebrate after hooking up for the game-winning goal in the Greens’ 2-1 victory over Hapoel Beersheba ahead of tonight’s opening Champions League group stage showdown in Portugal against Benfica. (credit: DANNY MARON)Maccabi Haifa teammates Frantzdy Pierrot (9) and Omer Atzily celebrate after hooking up for the game-winning goal in the Greens’ 2-1 victory over Hapoel Beersheba ahead of tonight’s opening Champions League group stage showdown in Portugal against Benfica. (credit: DANNY MARON)

Bachar decided to bring on last season’s MVP Omer Atzily in place of Dean David to begin the second half, but the move backfired when Rafa Silva put home a Grimaldo cross to give the hosts a 1-0 lead in the 50th minute.

Just five minutes later, Benfica doubled its advantage when Grimaldo sent a fabulous stunner into Josh Cohen’s goal to wrap up the win.

Haifa will now get ready for an Israel Premier League game against Ness Ziona on Saturday before welcoming Lionel Messi and Paris Saint-Germain – which defeated Juventus 2-1 thanks to a brace by Kylian Mbappe – next week to Sammy Ofer Stadium.

“It’s never honorable to lose, but we gave our maximum and we played at a very high pace,” Bachar said following the loss. “We started the second half well and we missed a great chance, but then we gave up two quick goals. Benfica is a better club than Maccabi Haifa and while we tried to narrow the gap between us, we just couldn’t do more than what we did.”

“We’re very proud to be playing against the top teams in the world,” Haifa’s Dolev Haziza commented. It’s too bad because we didn’t give up a goal in the first half and in the second , Franztdy Pierrot had a great chance to score. I’m someone who never likes to lose and we know that we can always do more, but this is what it is.”

In the group’s other match, Mbappe opened the scoring with a stunning goal and added a second in the opening half before substitute Weston McKennie reduced the arrears after the break as the French champions held off visiting Juventus.