Club Brugge KV will take a slender one-goal advantage to Hungary next week after visitors Debreceni VSC gave themselves every chance for Wednesday's return leg of this UEFA Cup third-round tie.
Norwegian striker Rune Lange scored just five minutes before the interval, but a glut of missed chances could have put the tie beyond the Hungarian team. Right from the outset it was obvious that both sides were having problems playing on a snow-covered pitch which made passing and controlling the ball very difficult.
The home side, having been eliminated from the UEFA Champions League, began well and Philippe Clement twice went close with early headers. But Debrecen, in the third round for the first time, were not overawed and went close on 34 minutes after a low corner was turned goalwards by Péter Bajzát.
Debrecen could have been behind on 37 minutes though when Andrés Mendoza latched on to a clever flick by Lange. But the Peruvian could not repeat the exploits which saw him hit the winner at AC Milan earlier this season and shot wide of the far post.
Brugge's goal did arrive three minutes later, as Lange lashed the ball in from five metres after picking up on a nod down from Victor Soares De Oliveira. After the interval Brugge seemed determined to put the tie to bed and twice went close to doubling their lead. First, when Mendoza's volley was turned on to the post by Sandro Tomic and then when Clement put a free header over from the resulting corner.
Only one goal down, Debrecen were never out of it and in Tibor Dombi provided a constant threat down the right wing. The 30-year-old twice provided wicked crosses for Zoltán Kiss, forcing Verlinden into smart saves.
Yet despite this the Hungarian team, who were playing their first competitive match for 12 weeks due to the winter break, ended the match on the back foot as Brugge squandered more chances to extend their lead. On 78 minutes Clement provided another flick-on from which David Rozehnal missed the target at the back post and then just four minutes from time substitute Alin Stoica hit a powerful shot straight into a wall of defenders.
Afterwards Brugge coach Trond Sollied was satisfied to take a lead, ableit slender, to Hungary next Wednesday. He said: "
I am glad but it was only a small win. It is a pity that we did not score more but it was important we did not concede."
His opposite number Lazar Szentes was less happy with the way his team played. The Debrecen coach said: "Why should I be happy to lose? We showed fighting spirit but it is not enough. The quality of the game was not the highest due to the circumstances but our target was always to score ourselves."