Two goals from Marko Babic handed Bayer 04 Leverkusen a crucial 2-0 win in their UEFA Champions League Group F game against Maccabi Haifa at the G.S.P stadium in Nicosia, Cyprus.
Without a point at kick-off, the 2002 Champions League finalists controlled the vast majority of the game, and only wayward finishing and good goalkeeping prevented them adding more goals. Having begun the season shakily, Leverkusen were unfortunate not to take a point from last week's tie with Manchester United FC, and enjoyed a confidence-boosting 2-1 win over FC Bayern München on Saturday, so it was not surprising that coach Klaus Toppmöller kept faith with the same lineup.
The match began in frenetic fashion, and either side could easily have snatched an early lead. The clearest chance fell to the impressive Maccabi Haifa striker Yakubu Ayegbeni, scorer of all three of his side's goals in last week's 3-0 victory over Olympiakos Piraeus FC. Capitalising on an uncharacteristic error by Carsten Ramelow, Ayegbeni burst forward, but Lucio got across and his deflection took much of the sting out of the shot, which Hans-Jörg Butt was able to get down to and hold at the second attempt.
Three good opportunities
That early scare aside, a rejuvenated Leverkusen controlled much of the half, keeping the ball and searching for weaknesses in the home side's defence. Striker Oliver Neuville worked tirelessly up front, and had three presentable chances, the best of which he prodded just wide of Dudu Awat's right-hand post.
On the quarter-hour, Marko Babic produced a teasing cross from the left-wing, which was met by a powerful downward header from Thomas Brdaric, but Awat got down well to palm the ball clear. Leverkusen continued to press, and Yildiray Bastürk saw his powerful shot from an angle well held by Awat.
However, the away side did take the lead in the 31st minute. Bernd Schneider delivered a perfect cross from a free-kick on the right midway inside the Maccabi half, and Marko Babic deftly glanced the ball past Awat and just inside the far post to put his side in front.
For all their control of the game, Leverkusen were fortunate to go into the interval ahead, after Giovani Rosso burst on to Ayegbeni's pass and into the penalty area only to have his heels clipped by Lucio. However, Avishay Zano saw his spot-kick hit Butt's right-hand post, and he then blazed the rebound high over the crossbar from less than two metres.
Both sides began the second half in more cautious fashion, aware that the next goal would prove crucial. When it did arrive, four minutes past the hour, it came in the most bizarre fashion. Babic was played into space down the left by Neuville, but looked to have over-hit his cross. However, Awat completely misjudged the flight of the ball, and it drifted over his head and dropped into the corner of the net to all but end the game as a contest.