SL Benfica were unable to take a lead from their home UEFA Champions League quarter-final first leg, but will surely feel some relief after withstanding tremendous FC Barcelona pressure in this goalless affair.
Typical of the game was the minute just before the hour, when the visitors struck the woodwork twice. Ronaldinho, Henrik Larsson, Deco and Mark van Bommel were among those to go close, but home goalkeeper Moretto produced some fine saves, and Benfica did carve out a few chances to give themselves reason for optimism in next Wednesday's Camp Nou return.
Faced with the suspension of leading scorer Nuno Gomes, Benfica coach Ronald Koeman deployed Geovanni up front. The Dutchman also selected left-sided Ricardo Rocha on the right, tasked with containing Ronaldinho. Koeman's compatriot Frank Rijkaard had captain Carles Puyol banned and fellow defenders Edmílson and Rafael Márquez unfit; Juliano Belletti, Thiago Motta, Oleguer Presas and Giovanni van Bronckhorst formed the back line.
Larsson took injured Lionel Messi's slot in Barcelona's front three, and another of the trio, Samuel Eto'o, helped create a golden opportunity when, under pressure from the Cameroonian, Moretto picked up Anderson's fifth-minute back-pass to concede an indirect free-kick. Ronaldinho and Larsson both had efforts blocked in the ensuing goalmouth scramble.
Benfica are a team happiest on the counterattack, and after withstanding two corners they broke at pace, though Simão's shot curled into the arms of Víctor Valdés. Andrés Iniesta's 15th-minute jinking run then bamboozled the Benfica defence, but he slid his effort wide. At the other end, Manuel Fernandes let fly a rasping attempt, only just over.
Ronaldinho turned on the style next, striding forward to supply Eto'o on the left. However, the striker's cross was turned wide by Deco, the former FC Porto man receiving the expected Lisbon 'welcome'. Moretto was fortunate before the half-hour as he sliced a clearance but recovered before Ronaldinho pounced.
A thrilling moment followed. From an unfamiliar right-back position Larsson fed Van Bommel. The Dutchman surged forward and eventually got one-on-one with Moretto, who kept his cool and saved with his legs. With Benfica restricted to shots from distance, Barcelona regularly confirmed their stellar reputation with gusto, lacking only a goal. Moretto somehow stopped a point-blank Eto'o effort shortly before the break, but the goalkeeper's jitters struck again when he passed the ball to Van Bommel, who fired wide from an acute angle with Larsson unattended inside.
Koeman sent on Fabrizio Miccoli for Laurent Robert at half-time in a search of attacking potency. Manuel Fernandes had been their biggest threat in the first half, and made Valdés work early in the second. But Barcelona were not kept down for long and Ronaldinho, having taken a central berth, played a geometrically precise pass for Larsson, whose drive was tipped on to the post by Moretto. The woodwork was immediately struck a second time as the resulting Ronaldinho corner was met forcefully by the head of Motta.
Goalkeepers stand firm
There was no doubt, though, that Benfica were going forward with more conviction, and went close when Miccoli broke down the left. His angled attempt was parried by Valdés, and the brave Van Bronckhorst then blocked Giovanni's follow-up. Again Barcelona responded swiftly, breaking quickly with Van Bommel denied by a fingertip Moretto save.
Buoyed perhaps by holding out for so long, Benfica pushed forward with intent in the closing stages. Simão was sent clear but denied by Valdés. Despite that promising ending, whether a draw will stand them in good stead in Spain is a moot point.