Real Madrid CF became the first side into the last 16 of this season's UEFA Champions League after battling their way to a goalless draw against FK Partizan in Belgrade.
The visitors remain unbeaten in the competition and progress thanks to FC Porto's victory against Olympique de Marseille. Partizan are left bottom of Group F, five points behind second-placed Porto.
Both sides had chances to win tonight's game, with Partizan having the better of the first 30 minutes and subsequently creating the two best chances of the game, while Madrid forwards Ronaldo and Raúl González were both guilty of profligacy in front of goal. Goalkeepers Iker Casillas and Djordje Pantic, playing in place of the injured Ivica Kralj, were in inspired form behind uncertain defences.
Madrid began brightly and looked dangerous down the left as Roberto Carlos released first Ronaldo and then Zinedine Zidane into the area. However, the Brazilian wing-back had to be replaced after suffering a hamstring injury just eight minutes into the match. As a result, Guti came into midfield with Iván Helguera dropping back into defence and Raúl Bravo moving to left-back.
Partizan reacted quickly to the change and launched forays of their own down the flanks, predominantly the left where Míchel Salgado often found himself up against two men. Ivica Iliev was the chief danger, hitting two shots wide of the goal before forcing Casillas to push one low effort around the post.
Visitors hit back
Madrid came back into the game after the half-hour and also had chances to score. After 32 minutes, Ronaldo beat the offside trap but shot straight at the feet of Pantic. Within the next eight minutes, Madrid carved out three more opportunities to break the deadlock.
First Luís Figo headed a David Beckham corner over the top after climbing above his marker. Then captain Raúl hit a volley from close range that was pushed to safety by Pantic, before Beckham himself under-hit a chip.
Partizan were still a threat going forward and just before half-time, Andrija Delibašic had the best chance of the half, poking Iliev's cross towards goal from three metres out only for Casillas to somehow spread himself and block the ball from point-blank range. It was Delibašic's last touch: minutes later, he clashed heads with Helguera and went off with a gashed head.
The second period began at a frantic pace as both teams looked for an opening goal and there were chances at both ends: Figo had two shots on goal – one wide and one well-saved – while for Partizan, substitute Milan Stojanoski and Iliev forced Casillas into action. Then a marvellous passing move from the visitors ended with Zidane hitting a fierce shot from a tight angle that Pantic did well to push away.
Madrid were on top in the second period and Ronaldo had another chance after Raúl's dummy released him in the area, but the ball bobbled just as he was shooting and the effort went wide. Beckham's sharp shot then hit the side-netting and he later curled another effort just wide.
Partizan continued to push forward, with substitute Ljubinko Drulovic next to miss the target, dragging his shot wide after a wonderful pass from Saša Ilic put him clean through. Ilic came even closer with six minutes left, pouncing on a Casillas fumble from Drulovic's shot to poke the ball wide from three metres out. In added time, the same player volleyed an effort that was kept out by Casillas from point-blank range again, summing up a frustrating night for both sides' forwards.