Bayer 04 Leverkusen overcame a spirited Maccabi Haifa FC side to record a 2-1 victory in their UEFA Champions League Group F encounter at the BayArena.
Valuable three points
Leverkusen struggled for long periods of the game against a compact and combative Maccabi side, but goals from Marko Babic and Brazilian defender Juan, either side of Nenad Pralija's equaliser, secured a valuable three points for the German side that takes them into second place in the group behind Manchester United FC.
Time to settle
It took Leverkusen time to settle into their familiar short passing game, and it was eleven minutes before they created their first goalscoring opportunity. That came from a set-piece after Thomas Brdaric went down under an Arik Benado challenge, Bernd Schneider curling the resulting free-kick just over the bar. However, that failed to herald an onslaught on the Haifa goal and the visitors began to exert an influence through midfield.
With Raimondas Zutautas shackling playmaker Yildiray Bastürk at every turn, Haifa were picking up any loose balls in the centre of the pitch. It was from one such timely interception on 30 minutes that Haifa nearly took the lead, when striker Yakubu Ayegbeni broke free to the edge of the Leverkusen area. But with only Hans-Jörg Butt to beat, the Nigerian international chipped the ball tamely wide of the post.
Babic breaks deadlock
Leverkusen continued to run into dogged resistance, with Alon Harazi marshalling the Haifa defence. It took a desperate double tackle from Harazi and Benado to halt Bastürk's progress into the area in the 40th minute, but as the home crowd grew restless Babic finally broke the deadlock in the 45th minute. A sustained period of pressure seemed to have come to an end, but the ball broke to Zoltán Sebescen on the right flank and his precise curling cross was flicked into the far corner by the unmarked striker.
Butt at fault
The home side came out for the second period in a mood to kill off the game completely, but wasteful passing enabled Haifa to regain a foothold. On 51 minutes Adoram Keise saw a shot from the edge of the area deflect off Schneider, but Leverkusen goalkeeper Butt stuck out a hand to deflect the ball over the crossbar. However, two minutes later Butt was at fault for Haifa's equaliser as he could only palm a lofted cross to Nenad Pralija. The midfield player's left-footed shot skidded off the turf and over the stranded goalkeeper and into the net.
Juan's the man
Haifa were very much in the ascendancy and an unsure Leverkusen defence were thankful that Ayegbeni and the tireless Zutautas could not take advantage of good chances. However, Leverkusen rallied but it took the intervention of defender Juan to swing the game back in their favour. Another attack seemed to have foundered but the ball fell to Sebescen and this time his pinpoint cross was headed beyond Dudu Awat by the towering central defender.
The goal finally broke Haifa's resolve, although late in the game substitute Guillermo Israilevich should have done better when he found himself in space ten metres out but his shot lacked power and Butt gratefully gathered.