On a warm and humid night on Tuesday in Haifa, Champions League football returned to Israel for the first time in five years as Maccabi Tel Aviv hosted Dynamo Kiev in Matchday 2 action.
The lights of Sammy Ofer Stadium shone brightly as 30,000 fans packed the stands, many of whom had made the trip from Tel Aviv up north to see the first ever Champions League match contested in the year-old arena.
Maccabi's Ultra fans packed the western end of the stadium, and drums and chants began a full hour before kickoff, all the way through the Champions League anthem, only to pause for a rousing and throaty chanting of HaTikvah just before kickoff.
Hopes were high for Maccabi, as Dynamo Kiev clearly presented their best chance of a home win in the group stages, but Kiev's Andrei Yormalenko scored an all-to-easy goal just four minutes into the match, and the lead was Kiev's for good.
Evan Zahavi's 9th minute goal, expertly finished, was waved off for offsides, and while Maccabi did possess the ball well in the first half, a goal was not to be had. I counted four other dangerous chances for the reigning Israeli treble holders, including two headers that perhaps could have been put in the net, but the inability to finish their chances would haunt the hosts throughout the match.
The second half began as the first, with a 50th minute goal only five minutes in from Junior Moraes, and as the clock ticked past 11:00 (due to the 9:45 kickoff), reality settled in, the chants became less raucous, and as the 90th minute neared, the crowd began to thin out. Those fans that hung around hoping to see Maccabi's first goal of their Champions League campaign were not to be rewarded.
For this fan, it was a night not to be forgotten. Champions League soccer is the best soccer on the planet, and to witness history tonight due to karma taking a hand and having me be in Haifa this week was something I will never forget.
For now, though, I'll be happy with my hearing returning to normal after being bombarded with whistles, drumbeats, and singing all night. Maccabi travels to Porto on October 20, and will be hoping to deliver a goal in front of the home crowd when they host Porto on November 4
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