Champions League: Haifa dreams of solitary goal

Champions League Haifa

Bordeaux 248.88 (photo credit: )
Bordeaux 248.88
(photo credit: )
Maccabi Haifa will desperately try to avoid setting a new Champions League record for futility on Tuesday night. Haifa hosts French champion Bordeaux at National Stadium in Ramat Gan in its final group match after failing to collect a point or score a goal in any of its five previous games. In the 18-year history of the Champions League no team has ever ended the group stage with no points or goals. Despite some impressive displays, Haifa has suffered four consecutive 1-0 defeats after losing its first group game 3-0 to Bayern Munich. The closest the team came to taking a point was in Bordeaux, where only an 83rd minute goal by Michael Ciani separated the sides. On Tuesday, Haifa should have its best chance of finding the back of the net and picking up its first points as Bordeaux will be fielding an experimental side after already guaranteeing itself top position in Group A with a 2-0 victory over Juventus two weeks ago. Bordeaux manager Laurent Blanc left 10 of his first-team regulars in France, including goalkeeper Cedric Carrasso, captain Alou Diarra, Jaroslav Plasil, Marouane Chamakh and Yoann Gourcuff. Nevertheless, Haifa coach Elisha Levy was quick to warn on Monday that Bordeaux's makeshift side does not guarantee his team success. "It is true that they traveled to Israel without seven or eight top players and that could hurt their performance," Levy said. "However, they have a very strong squad with promising young players who will want to prove themselves." Haifa will be without injured star captain Yaniv Katan and midfielder Gustavo Boccoli, but otherwise Levy has a full-squad to pick from. Alon Harazi is set to make his final appearance as a Haifa player on Tuesday after some 20 years in the top-flight, 19 of them at Haifa. The 38-year-old defender took a record nine league titles, three State Cups and five Toto Cups in his illustrious career and will become the club's head scout following his retirement. "We rightfully booked our place in the group stage and we don't want to end it with no goals or points," said Harazi, who is set to come on as a substitute. Levy echoed Harazi's sentiment. "We want to end the campaign on a high," he said. "We want to get the monkey off our back by collecting a first point and scoring a first goal. Reaching the group stage is a great achievement, but we have tried to win every match and never settled for a respectable loss." Blanc was confident his less-experienced players will hold their own at Ramat Gan. "This is going to be a difficult match," said Blanc, who enjoyed some sightseeing with his players on Tuesday, visiting the holy sites in Jerusalem, including the Mount of Olives and the Western Wall. "Haifa could have achieved more than it actually did. I'm planning to play an attacking game and we are taking this match very seriously. "Some players are going to be making their debuts in this competition. It is very interesting for them as they need game time. It is an opportunity to see young players with a lot of talent." Goalkeeper Ulrich Rame, 37, will likely be one of the more experienced players in Bordeaux's lineup. "It is a match which is going to be very useful for those who need game time," he said. "I am part of this group. We are going to have to use it. "Maccabi Haifa is the team which posed us most problems during our first three matches. They are a team which plays good football. They exploit spaces left by their opponents. Their players are technical and lively." Despite being just 90 minutes away from European soccer infamy, Levy said on Monday that he believes his team's continental campaign has been a success. "We were on par with our opponents in all the games," he said. "We played very well in Turin and Bordeaux and should have taken points. We were drawn into a very tough group in which none of the teams scored many goals. The team and the fans appreciate what we have done."