The Maccabi Haifa soccer team was defeated 2-0 by Benfica on Tuesday night, continuing its Champions League campaign where it left off the last time it featured in the top-tier European tournament’s group stage: unable to find the back of the net.
Despite facing the greatest odds in a group that included superstar-laden PSG and Italian powerhouse Juventus, Haifa managed to maintain pace with Benfica for much of the game, but was unable to overcome two goals in rapid succession shortly after halftime.
The Israeli squad is in the UEFA Champions League group stage for the first time since 2009-2010, when it won the dubious distinction of becoming the first team ever to fail to score a single goal or notch a draw in all six matches.
While the team from portuguese primeira liga, has won the Champions League twice in its history, and was regarded as Haifa’s best hope for an upset.
Benfica reached the quarterfinals last season after advancing past a group that included Barcelona and Bayern Munich. It defeated Ajax in the round of 16 before losing to eventual runner-up Liverpool in the quarterfinals.
They also managed to finnish 3rd on the Portugal league table.
Coming back to the match, Maccabi’s defence kept the team from Portugal primeira liga off balance for the first 45 minutes at Lisbon’s Estadio da Luz, allowing only one shot on goal.
However, things changed immediately after halftime, with Benfica striker Rafa Silva directing an assist from Alejandro Grimaldo past a diving Josh Cohen.
Three minutes later, Maccabi had an opportunity to equalise, but Tjaronn Chery’s attempt soared high, and Grimaldo put the game away with a screaming strike just under the crossbar.
“It was a great goal by Grimaldo,” Benfica coach Roger Schmidt said. “It was important to score early in the second half. It was a tough game, difficult to find spaces. We had to be patient.”
Maccabi manager Barak Bakhar admitted that his team wasn’t used to Benfica’s fast-paced attack, calling them the “better team.”
“We had our chances but didn’t take them, the pace was higher than what we are used to, but we will make fixes and come back ready for the next match,” he told Sport 5.
Maccabi’s next chance to score, or even win, will be on September 14, when the team faces PSG, who will bring Lionel Messi, Neymar, and Kylian Mbappé to Sammy Ofer Stadium in the bay city.
PSG defeated Juve 2-1 on Tuesday, thanks to two goals from Mbappé, kicking off a season that many anticipate will culminate with a first-ever Champions League triumph.