AZ Alkmaar opened their UEFA Europa League Group L campaign with a 1-0 win at Maccabi Haifa FC.
Maccabi Haifa, who have come this far from the second qualifying round, had their chances against last season's Dutch Cup winners but were unable to provide the finishing touch. They were duly made to pay for their profligacy with 19 minutes left, Jóhann Gudmundsson registering the decisive strike for AZ.
Looking to make it through this stage for the first time since 2006/07, Maccabi Haifa had started in sprightly fashion. Though they enjoyed the better of the opening period, Ariel Benado's side created little more than half-chances. Rayo, the hosts' lively No10, was first to provide visiting keeper Esteban with a genuine test just after the half-hour. Hen Ezra then assumed the mantle, twice threatening to break the deadlock before the interval.
It looked destined to be a similar story after the break, Alon Turgeman and Willie Overtoom threatening for their respective sides but failing to hit the target. When the breakthrough did arrive, it had more than a hint of fortune. Nick Viergever's cross seemed to have been under-hit but found its way to Gudmundsson, whose first-time effort squirmed between the legs of Maccabi Haifa goalkeeper Bojan Šaranov.
Though Gustavo Boccoli hit the bar moments later, Dekel Keinan headed narrowly wide and Shimon Abuhazira also went close, it was not to be the home team's night. They will hope to be more clinical at FC Shakhter Karagandy on 3 October, when AZ host PAOK FC.
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