Olic strike keeps Bayern's dream alive
Croatia striker Ivica Olic's second-half strike kept Bayern Munich's fading dream of reaching the UEFA Champions League's knock-out phase alive after the German giants beat Maccabi Haifa 1-0 on Wednesday night.
With Bordeaux beating Juventus 2-0 the same night in Group A, Bayern are now just one point behind the Italians and must win their final game at Turin's Stadio Olimpico on 8 December if they are to reach the knock-out phase.
Having drawn their last three league games, this victory was badly needed in Munich. "I think it was very important that we won and put this dark period behind us," said Olic who was making only his second appearance after injury. "I had a bad injury and it was a long break and it was pleasing to get the winning goal. I owe a lot to (Munich's team doctor) Dr. Hans-Wilhelm Mueller-Wohlfahrt, the coach wanted to take me off at the half-time break, but I said I felt good and I told him I wanted to score a goal."
The victory takes some of the pressure off Bayern Munich's under-pressure coach Louis van Gaal who suspended want-away Italian striker Luca Toni on the eve of the game for saying the pair's relationship has completely broken down. Glum-faced Toni spent the game in the stands next to French midfielder Franck Ribery while Bayern's fellow walking-wounded Arjen Robben and Miroslav Klose looked on
But with Germany's rising stars Thomas Mueller and Mario Gomez causing the Israeli team constant problems, in the end Bayern's superior fitness made the difference as the home side earned the victory. In a busy first-half, the best chance fell to Olic, but his shot was saved and there were loud whistles around Munich's Allianz Arena as the teams trudged off with the scores locked at 0-0 at half-time.
But Bayern took the lead in the 62nd minute when captain Mark van Bommel found Germany striker Mario Gomez in the penalty area and he fired his shot to the left of Haifa goalkeeper Nir Davidovitch. The Israel national goalkeeper made the save, but the rebound fell into the path of Olic who slotted home to keep the dream alive.
Haifa remain pointless at the foot of the table and their slim hopes of claiming entry into the Europa League by finishing third in the table are now over. Elisha Levi's Haifa remain the only team of the 32 in the group stage yet to find the back of the opposition's net and they host the group winners Bordeaux in their final game next month.
Should Bayern fail to reach the knock-out stages, this would be the first time they have missed out on a place in the last 16 in their five previous attempts. The last time they failed to do so was in 2002/03 when they finished bottom of their group with just two points.
Having drawn their last three league games, this victory was badly needed by Van Gaal, who has been told he must win his four remaining Bundesliga games before Christmas to be sure of keeping his job. "Of course, we are all very relieved to get the win," said Van Gaal. "The team played well and we are pleased to have got our destiny back into our own hands."