By Fergus O'Shea at the Estádio do Dragão
A resilient RC Deportivo La Coruña survived the late dismissal of Jorge Andrade to hold out for a goalless draw against FC Porto in a tight first leg of their UEFA Champions League semi-final and take a slender advantage back to Spain.
With neither coach forced into making changes by injuries, there were few surprises in their respective team selections. The home side, Porto, opted for their usual pairing of Benni McCarthy and 19-year-old Carlos Alberto up front with playmaker Deco playing in the hole behind them. Deportivo started the game with the same team which upset all the odds by eliminating holders AC Milan a fortnight ago. Coach Javier Irureta deployed a 4-2-3-1 formation with in-form wingers Alberto Luque and Víctor Sánchez supporting lone striker Walter Pandiani.
Between the two starting lineups there were nine players one booking away from suspension and it could have been the fear of missing the second leg which was to blame for the cagey opening exchanges. It took nine minutes to force the first real opportunity when a corner found the visitors' Manuel Pablo García at the back post and he lifted the ball back into the centre of the box, finding Pandiani unmarked. The striker controlled the ball well on his chest, but squandered what was a good chance by volleying his effort over the bar.
Any pretence of avoiding hard tackles that might invoke bookings was soon forgotten as the tempo raised considerably - but the first two players to go into German referee Markus Merk's notebook were Porto players not in danger of being suspended. Carlos Alberto was booked for time wasting midway through the first half and Ricardo Carvalho was shown a yellow card for an aggressive lunge on Manuel Pablo five minutes later. However, Deportivo captain Mauro Silva was shown a yellow card in the skirmish that followed the latter's challenge, and will sit out the second leg.
As half-time approached it was the UEFA Cup holders who looked the most comfortable on the ball and the more likely to find an opening. The 50,818 crowd seemed to collectively hold their breath on 37 minutes when a neat pass from the constantly involved Deco found Carlos Alberto inside the box. He twisted to turn two defenders before crossing low and hard across the goalmouth where Deportivo centre-half Nourredine Naybet got his body in the way and was fortunate to see the ball fly just over the bar.
Deportivo were forced to make a change on the stroke of half-time as Luque was carried off with an ankle injury, with Fran coming on in his place. Porto made two significant changes at the start of the second period as left-winger Dmitri Alenichev gave way to Lithuanian striker Edgaras Jankauskas, forcing Carlos Alberto to drop back on to the flank. The other change was a straight swap, with Pedro Mendes taking the place of Costinha in the centre of the pitch.
The game continued to be fraught with rough tackling, a distinct feeling of tension and an abundance of challenges met by the referee's whistle. Deportivo improved on their first-half performance and pressed forward in search of a precious away goal and Pandiani was offered an opportunity on 53 minutes when Juan Carlos Valerón played a good ball through the Porto defence, but a last-ditch tackle by Carvalho denied the striker the opportunity to test goalkeeper Vítor Baía.
After weathering the Deportivo storm, the home side came close to scoring 12 minutes later. Swift passing between Carlos Alberto and Jankauskas fed Maniche, whose shot from 18 metres out beat the stranded José Molina, but deflected agonisingly off the crossbar. Then, with less than ten minutes left to play, substitute Jankauskas narrowly headed wide after Deco had curled an excellent free-kick in from the right wing.
The home side even had an increased chance to take a lead to Spain in a fortnight once Andrade was sent off for a petulant gesture at Deco in the closing stages, but the game nevertheless finished goalless to set up a second leg that could be just as tight.