Champions League: Mac Haifa falls in group stage opener
Bayern Munich erupts in second half to claim emphatic 3-0 victory in Ramat Gan.
By ALLON SINAI
Maccabi Haifa's Champions League campaign got off to a frustrating start on Tuesday night after it suffered a 3-0 loss to Bayern Munich at National Stadium in Ramat Gan.
The final score line fails to tell the story of the match, with Haifa keeping Bayern at bay until the 64th minute and very nearly snatching the opener at the start of the second half.
Even after Daniel Van Buyten gave Munich the lead, Maccabi wasn't far from equalizing. But two Thomas Muller goals in the final five minutes ensured Haifa ended the match disappointed despite its respectable display against the German powerhouse.
Haifa will renew its campaign in two weeks time when it visits Bordeaux in France.
Haifa's players were clearly nervous at the start of the match, which is quite understandable when considering that most of them were playing in the group stage for the first time in their careers and were facing names they were used to only seeing on TV.
Bayern very nearly took advantage of Maccabi's unsettled start, with Dekel Keinan's poor defending almost gifting the visitors a lead in the third minute.
Munich continued to dominate the possession as the match progressed, but the Germans struggled to create clear-cut chances and Haifa goalkeeper Nir Davidovich was rarely called into action. In the 26th minute, the 'keeper had to be alert, racing out of his goal to pressure Ivica Olic, who found space in the Haifa box, but ended up sending his shot high.
The hosts rarely ventured forward, focusing rather on defending. It took Haifa until the final minute of first half to finally reach a scoring opportunity. A nice team move down the left ended with the ball at Eyal Golasa's feet, but the 17-year-old blasted his effort above goal.
The Haifa players looked delighted when the first 45 minutes ended in 0-0 tie, applauding each other as they left for the dressing rooms.
The solid first-half performance gave Elisha Levy's men plenty of confidence and the side came close to scoring the opener twice within two minutes, courtesy of Yaniv Katan.
Six minutes after the break, Katan, who was also an integral part of the Haifa team, which first reached the Champions League group stage in the 2002/03 season, broke free of his marker, but didn't do well enough with his shot and was denied by goalkeeper Hans-Jorg Butt.
Less than two minutes passed and Katan was once more tormenting the Munich defense. The 28-year-old shook off Van Buyten, but with the ball at his weak left foot, he could do no better than shot straight at Butt.
The space created by Haifa's surges forward was quickly taken advantage of by Bayern, with Arjen Robben only being denied by an instinctive Davidocivh save in the 57th minute.
In the 64th minute, Munich coach Louis Van Gaal substituted French superstar Franck Ribery for Mario Gomez and moments later the visitors went in front.
After a corner the ball somehow broke to Van Buyten and the Belgian international silenced the capacity crowd of 38,000 by smashing in the opener.
Six minutes later only a goal line clearance by Golasa prevented Bayern from doubling its advantage, with Davidovich completely missing a corner and Olic almost making the most of it with a header.
With nothing to lose, Haifa pushed forward in search of a goal and in the 76th minute it came tantalizingly close to equalizing.
After some good buildup play, substitute Shlomi Arbeitman laid the ball off for Vladimir Dvalishvilli, but the Georgian's powerful shot was saved by Butt's fingernails.
That would be as close as Haifa would come, with Bayern's Muller scoring twice within three minutes (85, 88) to give Munich an emphatic win it didn't necessarily deserve.
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