LOSC Lille Métropole and SL Benfica's qualification hopes are hanging in the balance after they played out a goalless draw in front of a record crowd at the Stade de France.
Bursting with confidence after their victory over Manchester United FC, the French side dominated for long periods, but the lack of conviction in front of goal that has dogged them throughout the campaign ultimately prevented them taking the points. Matt Moussilou and Milenko Ačimovič frequently combined to good effect, but neither could find the finishing touch to kill off a Benfica team seemingly happy to play for a draw. Lille have scored just once in five games, and may now need to win at Villarreal CF to progress.
Lille were forced to make one change from the side that defeated United, with midfielder Mathieu Debuchy ruled out. Defender Stephan Lichtsteiner was drafted in, while the versatile Matthieu Chalmé, right-back against United, advanced into a midfield role. The visitors were without influential forward Simão, though Fabrizio Miccoli was fit to start alongside Nuno Gomes up front.
As expected the stadium was full to bursting, with a huge Portuguese presence contributing to a record attendance for a French club in Europe. The stands were awash with red, the colour of both teams, but the roar that greeted Benfica's first attack made it clear the home supporters were in the minority. Despite the electric atmosphere, the match took time to come to life as both sides took turns to surrender possession.
Nélson fired Benfica's first attempt over the crossbar from the right of the penalty area, before Ačimovič's long-range effort was easily saved by Quim at the other end. The game threatened to spark into action midway through the first period, and Lille, with Jean Makoun asserting himself, created several openings. Ačimovič raced on to a slide-rule pass from the Cameroon midfielder on 25 minutes but, after jinking inside Anderson, struck a tame shot. Seconds later Moussilou showed great skill to turn past Luisão but then fired over from the edge of the box.
Benfica were struggling to find any fluency, with midfield pair Petit and Beto denied space by the tenacious home players. Miccoli, an isolated figure in attack, was replaced by Mantorras before the interval, still feeling the effects of a hamstring problem. Moussilou, looking for his first UEFA Champions League goal, dwelt too long after Ačimovič had slipped him clear, then the impressive Slovenian saw his inswinging corner punched off the line by Quim.
Lille began the second half with great determination and were soon laying siege to the Benfica goal. Moussilou was proving increasingly elusive, while wide men Geoffrey Dernis and Chalmé attacked with purpose. The hosts forced four corners in quick succession, then produced their first shot of the period when Mathieu Bodmer scuffed an attempt wide. A late challenge on Mantorras by Rafael Schmitz means the centre-back will sit out Lille's concluding match in Spain.
Knowing a defeat would end their qualification hopes, Benfica defended doggedly but were invisible as an attacking force. Lille coach Claude Puel looked to give his side more firepower by replacing Chalmé with Kevin Mirallas, but the teenage forward made little impact. An exhausted Moussilou, who had run selflessly all night, made way for Hicham Aboucherouane in the closing stages, while Mantorras sent an added-time shot over as Benfica belatedly sought an unlikely victory but the points were shared.