Superb defending from both sides ensured the first leg of the UEFA Cup third-round meeting between AC Perugia and PSV Eindhoven finished goalless, leaving the tie intriguingly poised ahead of the next Wednesday's return in the Philips stadium.
Perugia are struggling in Serie A and won their first league game only last Sunday, but success in Europe has not been a problem for Serse Cosmi's team. UEFA Intertoto Cup winners last summer, the Italian side defeated Dundee FC and FC Aris Thessaloniki in previous rounds.
The visitors, without the injured Arjen Robben, started with an attacking lineup, with wingers Ji-Sung Park and Theo Lucius supporting strikers Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink and Mateja Kezman. In contrast, Perugia opted for a safety-first approach, deploying defensive midfield players Christian Obodo and Fabio Gatti in front of the back four with strikers Fabrizio Ravanelli and Jay Bothroyd relying on long balls.
PSV had more possession in the first half but failed to create clear goalscoring opportunities. Zeljko Kalac was not called into action until eight minutes before half-time, when the Perugia goalkeeper pulled off a smart save to deny Kezman. Park was the first to the rebound and crossed accurately to the far post for Vennegoor of Hesselink, but the striker's diving header flashed just wide of the gaping goal.
A minute later, Kalac turned aside a powerful strike by PSV captain Mark van Bommel from just outside the penalty area, with Kezman also missing the target two minutes later.
Cosmi introduced Brazilian winger Raymundo Do Prado at half-time, and Perugia started the second half at a much higher tempo, pressing back PSV inside their own half. The substitute began to link well with Ravanelli and the former's cross led to an error from PSV defender Kasper Bøgelund, forcing goalkeeper Ronald Wattereus to save at Obodo's feet.
Bouma off target
A minute later, Do Prado sent a shot just wide after another one-two with Ravanelli, and the Italian side looked to be getting on top. However, Wilfred Bouma might have snatched victory for the Dutch visitors late on with a 25-metre free-kick that went just wide, but both sides ultimately seemed content to settle for a draw.
We knew that PSV were a really strong side and they confirmed it tonight," said Cosmi. "But I'm proud of my team, because we matched them throughout. This is not a negative result because we are still confident we can qualify."
His opposite number also declared himself pleased. "I'm satisified with the result," said Guus Hiddink. "We knew that Perugia could play good football.
We can win the return leg but they will be dangerous on the counterattack."