AEK Athens FC collected their seventh draw in European competition this season, producing a characteristically resilient display to hold Málaga CF to a stalemate in Spain and wrestle the advantage ahead of the second leg of this UEFA Cup fourth-round tie in Athens next week.
The Greek team arrived at La Rosaleda with an identical approach to that employed in their eight other European matches this term - to sit back and absorb the home team's pressure while waiting for an opportunity to counterattack. The tactic worked, save for a goal, as Málaga proved incapable of forging a breakthrough.
The Southern Spanish side put two consecutive defeats behind them in the early stages of the match, running AEK ragged with their exciting and incisive passing. Midfield player Gerardo threatened first for Joaquín Peiró's team, unleashing a volley from the edge of the box in the third minute which almost caught goalkeeper Dionisios Chiotis unaware. Soon afterwards, Dário Silva's powerfully struck free-kick was charged down by the wall.
Dário Silva guilty
The first significant opportunity carved by the Greek side came on 23 minutes when Vassilios Borbokis curled in a free-kick which nearly dipped in at the far post. That, however, was eclipsed by the next chance that fell to Dário Silva, who was played into the inside left channel by a deft touch from Dely Valdes but pulled his shot wide. The half ended with the lively Antonio Sanchez drilling a shot straight at Chiotis.
Lack of poise
The Greek challengers began the second half more confidently, yet the first chance, in the 50th minute, fell Málaga's way when Valcarce's cross-shot fizzed over Chiotis' bar. Spurred on by that near miss, AEK drove forward at pace and almost broke the deadlock through Vassilios Borbokis, though his shot from a Vassilos Lakis pass flew wide. Lakis, the impressive AEK playmaker, provided another scare when he broke free down the left, but he lacked the poise to chip the on-rushing Pedro Contreras.
From there on in it was all Málaga, but the pressure failed to achieve the desired result, much to the frustration of Peiró. Kizito Musampa arrowed in on the opposition box but erred when trying to release Dário Silva; Gerardo came agonisingly close with a free-kick and Dely Valdes' glancing header at the death grazed the post.