By Kevin Ashby
After savouring a UEFA Champions League victory for the first time last week, Maccabi Haifa could push themselves closer to an unexpected berth in the second group stage by accounting for Bayer 04 Leverkusen in a Group F fixture deemed "absolutely decisive" by the German side's coach, Klaus Toppmöller.
Haifa, Israel's maiden representatives in this competition, recovered from a 5-2 loss against Manchester United FC to inflict a 3-0 defeat on Olympiakos Piraeus FC and move into second place in the section, Yakubu Ayegbeni tormenting the Greek side with a hat-trick.
Without a point
Leverkusen are one of three clubs in the 32-team first group stage yet to collect a point. They showed tremendous spirit in the second half of last week's 2-1 home defeat by United but lacked the cutting edge which helped them eliminate the English side last season. Nevertheless, the performance was a significant improvement on that which saw Leverkusen humbled 6-2 by Olympiakos in Athens.
Absence of luck
Toppmöller had bemoaned an absence of luck in his side's indifferent start to a campaign which promised much, but it returned on Saturday as Leverkusen inflicted FC Bayern München's first 1. Bundesliga loss of the season at the BayArena. "If you don't take confidence from beating Bayern then you never do," said midfield player Hanno Balitsch of the 2-1 success. "We can build on that."
'Very clever game'
His coach certainly agrees, Toppmöller saying of the meeting with Haifa in Nicosia: "This game is absolutely decisive. Maccabi Haifa play a very, very clever game, so we will have to be on our guard. But I predict if we win it and if we then win our next two home games then we will reach the next group stage." Itzhak Shum is also aware of the size of the task in hand. "We have to build on the momentum of recent victories as this forthcoming match is very difficult," the coach of Haifa said.
Badier passed fit
Both teams are hampered by long-term injuries, particularly Leverkusen, but Haifa's Walid Badier has shrugged off the injury which forced him to limp out of Saturday's 1-0 success against Maccabi Tel-Aviv. Badier participated in a brief training session on Sunday ahead of Haifa's journey to Cyprus - a flight which promised extra comfort after the club chartered a plane following Shum's displeasure at the previous week's transport arrangements.
Waiting for takeoff
It was fortunate for one Haifa player, Michael Zandberg, that the club did not travel on a regular flight as the striker left his passport in Ramat Gan, forcing the delay of their departure. Shum will be hoping his players do not take as long to take off against Leverkusen.
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