Michaël Ciani's late header boosted FC Girondins de Bordeaux's Group A campaign as the French champions finally got the better of an enterprising and spirited Maccabi Haifa FC.
Looking to build on their encouraging opening-day draw at Juventus, Les Marine et Blanc threw everything at the visitors but struggled to hit top gear, rarely troubling goalkeeper Nir Davidovitch in an intense and even encounter. For their part, as well as defending resolutely, Haifa attacked with skill and verve and could easily have returned to Israel with maximum points. However, Ciani powered in a header from Grégory Sertic's 83rd-minute corner to clinch the all-important win that leaves Bordeaux on four points along with group leaders and next opponents FC Bayern München. Maccabi are yet to get off the mark.
The Israeli champions had boasted an excellent record against French clubs, having taken two wins and a draw from three previous meetings with Ligue 1 opposition, and Elisha Levi's charges showed no signs of apprehension against a Bordeaux side unbeaten in 21 matches. With Haifa's teenage wingers Eyal Golasa and Mohammad Ghadir pushing on at every opportunity, Bordeaux quickly found themselves on the back foot, visiting striker Vladimer Dvalishvili hooking over from close range before Eyal Meshumar's rising shot drew a save from Cédric Carrasso.
Laurent Blanc's men had drawn gushing praise for their flowing football this term yet they rarely hit their straps in a disjointed first half. One long, stylish passing move culminated in Matthieu Chalmé crossing for Yoann Gourcuff, who nodded wide, but such combinations proved few and far between. Only Ciani's beautifully timed tackle prevented the pacy Ghadir bursting clear at the other end, and Carrasso needed to demonstrate his reflexes again to parry Tsepo Masilela's stinging cross-shot just before the half-hour.
As Haifa's excellent midfield pair of Jhon Jairo Culma and Baram Kayal continued to dictate play, Blanc must have wondered whether his decision to operate with two forwards in the UEFA Champions League for the first time had been wise. He altered the shape of his midfield at the break, Fernando replacing the more attacking Gourcuff who had a thigh injury, yet the pattern of play remained unchanged. Carrasso's misjudgement immediately presented Dvalishvili with a golden chance which the Georgian – under pressure from Ciani – headed wide of an open goal.
If Fernando Cavenaghi had struggled to make an impact, his substitute David Bellion proved more of a handful. The striker had two gilt-edged opportunities within minutes of coming on, firing wide from point-blank range after latching on to Marouane Chamakh's deft header, then surging clear but miscuing his shot, allowing Davidovitch to save easily. For all the hosts' pressure, Haifa appeared more threatening in the closing stages. Golasa tested Carrasso from distance before, seconds later, substitute Lior Refaelov dribbled through the heart of the home defence only to see his precise low effort expertly stopped by the Bordeaux No1. Haifa were made to rue those misses when Ciani struck, and their night worsened two minutes from time as Kayal received a red card for a dangerous tackle on Benoît Trémoulinas.