A series of excellent saves from Stephan Straub earned TSV Alemannia Aachen a hard-fought goalless draw at their European home, the Rhein Energie Stadion, as Eredivisie contenders AZ Alkmaar failed to find their fluency.
The veteran goalkeeper made a number of superb stops to keep the 2. Bundesliga side in this tie ahead of the return leg at the Alkmaarderhout next Thursday. On seven minutes, he made a magnificent dive to tip a long drive over and it proved a sign of things to come, although Aachen did enjoy some good spells.
Spurred on by a vociferous crowd, the home side responded well and won a corner on ten minutes. Sergio Pinto's delivery was disappointing, failing to beat the first man, but Alkmaar still struggled to clear before striker Martijn Meerdink eventually took command. It proved to be an omen for the visitors from dead-ball situations.
Aachen began to dominate possession but Alkmaar continued to threaten on the break and on 18 minutes Stein Huysegems almost broke the deadlock. The Belgian youngster, who already has three goals to his name in the UEFA Cup this season, collected a looping deflection deep inside the area and shot on the turn, but straight at Straub.
Again Aachen quickly responded and three minutes later only an excellent last-ditch tackle by Joris Mathijsen denied the impressive Simon Rolfes a good shooting opportunity. From the resulting corner, Pinto's kick was glanced goalwards where only the presence of Tarik Sektioui on the back post kept the scores level.
It sparked Aachen's best spell of the game and for ten minutes Alkmaar struggled to gain a foothold in the game, although they only had an awkward half-volley from Daniel Gomez to show for it. Danny Landzaat began to wrest control of the game back for the Eredivisie outfit and it was the Alkmaar captain - a doubt before the game - who led a superb attacking move three minutes before the interval.
Landzaat threaded the ball to Sektioui, who touched it wide to Huysegems and the Belgium youngster drilled a powerful cross across goal that Martijn Meerdink allowed to run through his legs before flicking it to the front post, where Straub again did well to deny him. The second half began scrappily, and it was the home side that created the first chance when Reiner Plasshenrich dragged his low shot narrowly wide after good work from Rolfes and Thomas Stehle.
Returning from an injury lay-off, Plasshenrich was replaced shortly after, sparking a spate of substitutions for both sides. One of Alkmaar's newcomers, Robin Nelisse, should have given his side the lead with 20 minutes left, but with just one defender to beat his pass was too heavy, allowing Straub to block Nelisse's effort on the edge of his own box. At the other end Gomez blazed a shot over and Stehle directed a free header straight at Henk Timmer, and the last chance had gone.