Former Germany goalkeeper Timo Hildebrand caught the eye on his FC Schalke 04 debut as the Group J winners helped end Maccabi Haifa FC's UEFA Europa League campaign.
The Israeli side began the day in command of their own destiny but Jurica Buljat's ninth-minute own goal was the worst possible start. They improved in the second period, and could have restored parity when an Alban Sabah handball gave Yaniv Katan his chance from the spot. Diving to his left, Hildebrand was equal to it and while late goals from another debutant, Andreas Wiegel, and Ciprian Marica sealed victory, FC Steaua Bucureşti's 3-1 triumph over AEK Larnaca FC confirmed Maccabi's exit.
A largely second-string Schalke, whose name in Friday's draw was secured amid a run of one loss in 11 matches, began with real freedom, and José Manuel Jurado had already gone a whisker wide after a sweet set of one-touch volleys when the visitors forged ahead. Marica sprang the offside trap, squaring towards Julian Draxler, in space at the far post; Buljat had to intervene but could only guide the ball into the roof of the net.
Idan Vered could have levelled almost immediately after cushioning Vladimir Dvalishvili's pass and stepping inside Benedikt Höwedes, but his scuffed shot brought a comfortable introduction for Hildebrand. It was a glimmer of light; for the rest of the half Schalke's dominant shadow loomed large, and only the alert Bojan Šaranov kept the hosts in touch, notably denying Draxler on 35 minutes.
Yet from the gloom, Maccabi emerged for the restart with real hunger and urgency, Katan orchestrating things as they pushed Schalke further and further back. Stresses began to emerge in the visiting back line now, and 18 minutes from time Sabah's handball threw Maccabi a lifeline – only for Hildebrand to promptly withdraw it. Marica and Wiegel cut them adrift once and for all.
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