Alfonso Pérez's eighth-minute penalty was all Real Betis Balompié needed to ensure they will take a first-leg lead with them to France in a fortnight after a hard-fought UEFA Cup third-round win against AJ Auxerre at the Manuel Ruíz de Lopera stadium in Seville.
The home side got off to the perfect start when the outstanding Denílson twisted and turned in the box before being brought down by Johan Radet to allow Alfonso Pérez to put the home side ahead from the spot.
Cool to the rescue
An early goal to the good, Betis oozed confidence and Auxerre would have fallen further behind if not for a briliant reflex save from Fabien Cool to keep out Joaquín Sánchez's stinging drive as Betis laid siege to the Auxerre goal.
Having survived the early pressure without falling further behind, Auxerre pushed forward and created chances of their own. The French side's best opportunity of the half fell to Benjamin Mwaruwari who capped a surging run into the box with a precise shot to the corner that Antonio Prats did well to keep out as the first half finished at a frantic pace.
Betis were unable to match their first-half dominance after the break as Auxerre came more into the game. Eight minutes after the restart Olivier Kapo's superb cross was met by Mwaruwari, but Prats was again on hand to keep out the Zimbabwean's goal-bound effort.
Betis hold on
Chances were few and far between in a tightly-contested second half, but Auxerre came close to snatching a crucial away goal as the clock wound down. Djibril Cissé, who had been left on the bench by coach Guy Roux, replaced Kapo late on and the French international striker almost broke Spanish hearts with a powerful strike from the edge of the box. Once again, however, Prats was able to turn the ball to safety as Betis held on for a hard-fought victory.