With FC Bayern München's players sweltering in Israel, captain Yaniv Katan hoped Maccabi Haifa FC's fans would turn up the heat on Tuesday night, saying: "We are committed to them and hope to repay their loyalty on the pitch."
After a seven-year absence from the group stage, the prospect of seeing Maccabi play a UEFA Champions League group stage on Israeli soil for the first time will bring a 41,583-strong crowd to the Ramat Gan stadium. Forward Katan said: "The fans at our home matches are always a major factor. Thousands of them have already booked their seats and the national stadium is going to be full to capacity. We are committed to them and hope to repay their loyalty on the pitch. I just hope that at the final whistle we will all be smiling. "
The 28-year-old Katan was a key performer in Haifa's 2002/03 group stage campaign, scoring in two games against Manchester United FC – one a famous 3-0 win – as his side finished third in their section to earn a UEFA Cup third round place, despite playing all of their home games in Cyprus due to political problems in Israel. "There is a massive difference between the team we had then and the team we have now," said Katan. "Then we had a very experienced team; now we have younger players with less experience, but the players we have now are talented and good enough to maybe emulate that run."
The weather may be a crucial factor in Haifa getting their campaign off to a good start. Noting the oppressive humidity, Bastian Schweinsteiger – who played in Bayern's 1-0 win against Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC at the Ramat Gan Stadium in the 2004/05 group stage – said: "It is five years since I was last here in Israel and the weather has not changed; German players are not used to that, so the weather is in Maccabi's favour." However, the 25-year-old was not too disheartened as his side looked to "take the wind out of Haifa's sails as soon as the game starts", adding: "Haifa are a good, skilful team. We still don't know a lot about them; we will be only be learning about their tactics this evening, but I think that Bayern have enough talent."
Talent, and confidence too, with a 5-1 win at BV Borussia Dortmund on Saturday representing their best performance yet under new coach Louis van Gaal. Full-back Philipp Lahm noted: "The start of the new season was hard for us, with a new coach and a group of new players, but now we feel a lot better and we have come here to win. We are on the right track now. In five years, we have only won once against Dortmund, and the 5-1 scoreline from the weekend match speaks for itself."
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