German giants Bayern Munich got off to an ideal start in their opening Group A UEFA Champions League clash on Tuesday as birthday boy Thomas Muller scored twice to seal a 3-0 win over Maccabi Haifa.
Muller, who only celebrated his 20th birthday on Sunday after two goals against Dortmund in Saturday's 5-1 Bundesliga win, netted twice in the last few minutes in Tel Aviv's Ramat Gan Stadium. "We had already done the hard work," said Muller modestly. "When the first goal went in, we were all relieved and my two goals were only a bit of security really."
After Belgium defender Daniel Van Buyten had got the visitors' first goal on 64 minutes with a well-taken strike, Muller added further goals in the 85th and 88th minutes to give the Germans three points in their group. "I think we have played an excellent first half, but did not score any goals," said Bayern's coach Louis van Gaal. "In the second half, we lost too many balls and lost our way a bit. I corrected that and we got the goals we needed in the end."
It was the winning start van Gaal had demanded of Bayern, but Muller is starting to make a name for himself at a club which is no stranger to European success.
Van Buyten took advantage of a slip in the home side's defence when the ball bobbled away from Bayern's substitute Mario Gomez and the Belgian defender rifled his shot past Haifa's goalkeeper Nir Davidovitch. With time running out, Muller showed finishing way beyond his tender years when he was first set up by substitute defender Christian Ottl in the penalty area and smashed his shot past Davidovitch with five minutes left. And Gomez played a helping hand again when he was left free on the wing and crossed the ball in for Mueller to score from all of three metres out at the near post on 88 minutes.
It was a bad start at home for Elisha Levi's Haifa side who are seeking to become the first Israeli club to progress from the group stage but provided Bayern with little resistance. Bayern brought virtually a full strength side here as Germany striker Miroslav Klose was the only key name left behind to work on his fitness after taking longer than expected to get over a leg injury.
In the next round of matches, Bayern host Juventus at the Allianz Arena on Wednesday 30 September, the same night Haifa are at Bordeaux, who drew 1-1 with the Italians in Turin.