LOSC Lille Métropole earned a valuable away draw in the snow at St. Jakob-Park as a frustrating night for FC Basel 1893 ended goalless thanks to the heroics of goalkeeper Tony Sylva.
The Swiss side, returning to competitive action for the first time after a two-month domestic break, looked sharp enough in the opening stages but had little to show for their early efforts save for several energetic Christian Giménez runs. In fact, neither side could muster a shot on goal - with UEFA Intertoto Cup winners Lille content to play on the break and Basel lacking a competitive edge - until the 33rd minute.
A hat-trick of near misses brought the match to life, and should have provided at least one goal. Basel carved out two excellent chances in quick succession, Giménez heading tamely at Sylva from close-range before Julio Rossi failed to score from inside the penalty area after a defensive mix-up. Lille responded with a fierce drive from distance by full-back Grégory Tafforeau that whistled just past the far post.
No room for error
Neither side was able to fashion a breakthrough, however, although both continued to press forward in search of a goal. Sylva was in unbeatable form in the Lille goal, however, although the goalkeeper was fortunate to escape after only punching a teasing free-kick partially clear early in the second period. The ball landed at the feet of Philipp Degen, but his shot was blocked by midfield player Mathieu Chalmé inside the area.
With Basel becoming noticably sharper as the match wore on, Christian Gross' men controlled the second half, denied only by several fine Sylva stops. The 29-year-old Senegalese international frustrated the home side on numerous occassions, notably producing an excellent reaction save when Reto Zanni looked likely to score and then saving at the feet of Rossi from an acute angle.
But even when the Swiss side appeared to have the goalkeeper beaten, still they could not find the net. Scott Chipperfield's determined run and pass inside the last five minutes could not be converted by Rossi, who just failed to connect with the ball with the goal gaping.
With the seconds ticking away, Lille nearly shocked the home support by snatching an away goal against the run of play. Substitute Yohan Cabaye was neatly laid off with time and space to shoot but he blasted over seconds before the final whistle, ensuring there is nothing between the teams ahead of the conclusion of the tie at the Stade Villeneuve d'Ascq on 24 February.
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