BARCELONA, Spain (AP) – Bayern Munich gutted out a big win in Munich tonight behind the skill of Arjen Robben to take a 2-0 first leg lead over FC Zurich in their Champions League playoff game.
With Munich hosting the Champions league final in May, the pressure was on the Bavarians from the start and while never wholly convincing, the Bundesliga giants were able to get the job done.
A steady second half performance sealed the deal Wednesday night for Bayern at the Allianz Arena, but many questions remain over the makeup of this German side. Bayern struggled in the first half against the third-tier European side who cleared looked like a side punching well above its weight limit. Without Robben's artistry and Franck Ribery's ball skill, Bayern are still a one-dimensional team that stands back too much.
Give credit to keeper Johnny Leoni. When the pressure started to build after the interval, Leoni kept Zurich in the game with a series of acrobatic parries. Nonetheless, Bayern fans will be more worried by the fact that it took the giants an hour to truly impose their will despite getting a very early goal from Bastian Schweinsteiger. After a magical cross from Robben, the vice-captain's uncontested header reached the far post and should have set the homers on a path to a rout. Instead, Bayern hesitated and allowed Zurich back into the game; giving newly acquired goal-keeper Manuel Neuer, a chance to validate his high purchase tag.
The skunk of the night might well have been Mario Gomez, who missed chance after chance after chance for Bayern. "Super Mario" was ineffective for majority of the match, but did find Robben with a tap-back for the second goal, that secured Bayern's victory against the visiting Swiss side.
Bayern now head to Switzerland next week and have a soft cushion. Based on their strong talent pool, Bayern should be through to the group stage with ease. Yet, the fact that they are unable to close games out against lower class adversaries will surely trouble their fan base.
Elsewhere, a wildly inept back pass cost Villarreal a draw in Denmark and opened up the door for a major upset as OB Odense . Despite being outplayed much of the evening, Odense took a 1-0 first leg lead over La Liga's Yellow Submarine. Hans Henrik Andreasen accepted the gift from Cristian Zapata six minutes from time and crashed a 10-yard shot into the roof of the net to give the home team a most-unlikely victory.
OB tried to carry the match to the better-known Spanish side, but found it difficult to break down Villarreal's defense. Villareal's supporters will undoubtedly believe that their side should have secured at least two away goals at Tre-For Park. Juan Carlos Garrido's side was unable to dictate and dominate possession of the ball that they're usually accustomed of doing.
Stefan Wessels had kept the Danish side in the hunt with a pair of big saves and Giuseppe Rossi wasted a good close in chance to put Villarreal ahead. Eventually, Zapata's mistake opened the door for OB and the Danes did not look back.
Wisla Holds Serve
A single goal was all that Wisla Krakow could manage at home against a creative, but timid APOEL Nicosia side in a match that was wide open.
The match was characterized more by effort than finishing skill. APOEL had plenty of possession and played some very pretty football; although much of it was twenty yards away from the penalty area. When the Cypriots did try to make something happen in the box, their passes lacked accuracy and strength.
Wisla had golden chances from Ivica Iliev and Svetan Genkov. Those opportunities were saved by Dimitrios Chiotis in the first half, while Maor Melikson's free kick hit the crossbar in the second before the eventual Wisla goal.
Patryk Malecki, a force all night for Wisla, provided a wonderful finish after Gervasio Nunez spotted him open on the right with a fine pass in the 71st minute. Malecki collected the ball, put defender William Bonaventura to the floor, and crushed a left-footed shot to the far post from 10 yards out.
Indeed, Maecki's goal was pure brilliance. The second leg in Nicosia should be balanced in nature and will be evenly contested.
Racing Genk spent much of the night escaping Maccabi Haifa's chances and collected an important away goal -- from a former Maccabi player, no less -- to return to Belgium trailing 2-1.
It could have been much different.
The Israeli side jumped on top in the eighth minute when Weaam Amashe collected a long pass over his shoulder. In sequence, Amashe held off a defender and shot a fire-cracker past the net. The Greens later increased their lead in the 28th when Vladimir Dvalishvili managed to get a touch to an Eyal Golasa cross from the right side
There seemed to be no problems for the home team until a 61st minute raid by Kennedy Nwanganga opened the way for Elyaniv Barda. Maccabi keeper Nir Davidovitch could only parry the initial shot from outside the box and the rebound fell right to Barda, who had the whole net in front him from eight yards.
Genk might well have stolen a draw, but a wonderful double save by Davidovitch in the 87th minute derailed Genk's plans. First the keeper beat Nwanganga from close range and recovered to palm Khaleem Hyland's rebound around the post.
Dynamite for Dynamo
In Croatia, Dinamo Zagreb and Malmo sparred for an entertaining half before the home team applied the screws. Trading goals inside the first twenty, both teams looked speedy and well-matched, but with serious gaps in their back line.
Man of the match, Sammir, struck first in just the fourth minute, sending the faithful at Maksimir into rapture. Perhaps overlooked was the fact that keeper Dusan Melicharek served gifts for Dinamo midfielders across the pitch. Agon Mehmeti scored the lone goal for Malmo and made the match interesting for the first forty-five minutes.
Unfortunately for Malmo, Melicharek ended up having a miserable night. Sammir added another goal in the 60th minute before Ante Rukavina and Fatos Beciraj added their names to the scoring sheet.
The Champions league playoffs continue next Tuesday with five games, including Villarreal-Odense in what is now a critical match for the Spanish giants, live from 2PM EDT on Fox Soccer.
Every Champions League game is live on the FOX family of networks, and all matches are covered in real time on Twitter at @foxsoccertrax.