UEFA Cup: Maccabi Haifa draws with Espanyol

First leg of Round-of-16 tie at Bloomfield Stadium ends goalless.

Maccabi Haifa 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Maccabi Haifa 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Maccabi Haifa's UEFA Cup Round-of-16 tie against Espanyol remains finely balanced after the clubs drew 0-0 in the first leg at Bloomfield Stadium on Thursday night. Haifa pushed forward in search of a goal for most of the match, but its efforts were in vain, with the Spanish club's defensive play keeping the hosts at bay throughout. Thursday's result means Maccabi will go to Spain next week with a spot in the quarterfinals still well within its reach. A single goal by the Israeli club in next Thursday's second leg would require Espanyol to score two goals to advance. Haifa began the match without midfielder Alain Masudi, who was dropped from the squad by coach Roni Levy, after the two clashed in the dressing room just prior to kickoff. Maccabi was nevertheless the livelier side at the start and Haifa recorded the first shot on goal in the third minute. Roberto Colautti found space on the edge of Espanyol's box, but his shot was easily collected by goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz. Espanyol was content to defend and hit Haifa on the break and in the 16th minute, almost scored a vital away goal. Luis Garcia's dangerous free kick was cleared by 'keeper Nir Davidovitch. The Spanish forward had another chance seconds later, hitting a fantastic shot that was barely saved by Davidovitch. Haifa had the lion's share of the possession and it wasn't long before the club began to create scoring opportunities. In the 23rd minute, Gustavo Boccoli hit a powerful shot toward goal that went out off a Spanish defender. Four minutes later, Colautti found space, but could only shoot straight at the 'keeper. Haifa continued to have difficulties penetrating Espanyol's defense in the second half, with scoring chances at a premium. In the 62nd minute, Colautti should have done better with Boccoli's excellent cross, but the Argentinian striker could only manage to head the ball over the target. The Spanish club had its best chance of the match two minutes later when Mohamed El Yaaggoubi was left all alone in the Haifa box and struck a left-footed shot that, to the hosts' relief, only crashed against the crossbar. Maccabi continued to struggle against Espanyol's defensive tactics, but in the 84th minute the team got the opportunity it was waiting for. Substitute Shlomi Arbeitman had only the 'keeper to beat, but the young striker's shot from 10 meters out went straight at Iraizoz.