By Paolo Menicucci
Parma FC gave VfB Stuttgart a real test in the second half at the Ennio Tardini, but the German side withstood the pressure and survived with a goalless draw from the first leg of this UEFA Cup Round of 32 tie.
Stuttgart held the upper hand in the first half, but Parma improved after the break and the visitors had goalkeeper Timo Hildebrand to thank for two magnificent saves that ensured they left Italy on level terms.
With one eye on Sunday's Serie A relegation battle against Brescia Calcio, Parma coach Pietro Carmignani opted to rest several key players. Sébastien Frey, Marco Marchionni, Mark Bresciano and Domenico Morfeo were all left out while Alberto Gilardino started on the bench.
Two up front
Stuttgart coach Matthias Sammer, meanwhile, was without Kevin Kuranyi, Andreas Hinkel, Philipp Lahm and Marco Streller, and started with Brazilian Cacau and Hungarian Imre Szabics up front. Former German international Markus Babbel reinforced the defence.
The Bundesliga outfit enjoyed most of the possession in the opening stages, but Parma came close to breaking the deadlock after eight minutes when Hildebrand had to come off his line to take the ball away from the feet of Andrea Pisanu after Vincenzo Grella had put his team-mate in behind the Stuttgart defence.
Stuttgart, however, continued to control proceedings and had chances of their own. Silvio Meissner and Aliaksandr Hleb both had good opportunities but failed to hit the target after 17 and 19 minutes respectively.
The latter proved to be the last opening of the first period for either side as Stuttgart slowly reduced their pressure on Parma while the home team struggled to trouble the organised German defence. Immediately after the restart, though, Stuttgart threatened to take the lead, but Martin Stranzl's shot from edge of the area went just over the bar.
Parma were more determined after the interval and forced Stuttgart back into their own half. Hildebrand again had to be alert and produced a superb diving save to keep out a powerful close-range drive from Pisanu.
A few minutes later the custodian made another great stop, pushing wide Giuseppe Cardone's low shot from just outside the penalty box. The resulting corner created more trouble for the visitors as Meissner inadvertently deflected the ball towards his own goal, but Szabics saved Stuttgart with a goalline clearance.
Carmignani replaced Francesco Ruopolo with Italy striker Gilardino with 25 minutes remaining, but Parma failed to sustain their pressure and Stuttgart held out. There was no winner this time and both teams will be hopeful of progress to the last 16 when they meet in Stuttgart for the second leg next Thursday.