Athletic Club Bilbao frustrated FK Austria Wien in holding the Austrian club to a 0-0 draw in their rescheduled UEFA Cup Round of 32 first-leg match at the Ernst Happel stadium.
Clear chances were few and far between in a tight game, but the Spanish club, now unbeaten in eleven games, will feel home advantage in the second leg on Sunday will give them the edge. The two sides were originally scheduled to play the first leg last week, but the game was called off due to heavy snowfall in Vienna and Sunday's second leg will decide who faces Real Zaragoza in the last 16.
Austria had not played since their UEFA Cup win over FC Utrecht on 16 December. However, coach Lars Sondergaard's fears that his side might not have been quite at top match sharpness proved unfounded. Athletic coach Ernesto Valverde - whose side beat Real Madrid CF 2-0 on Saturday - was without first-choice goalkeeper Dani Aranzubia, out with flu, so Ignacio Lafuente deputised.
The first half was keenly contested but remained tight until the final minutes before the break. First Austria had a fantastic chance to take the lead. Jocelyn Blanchard skipped free down the left wing, got to the byline and picked out the unmarked Libor Sionko on the far post. The Czech saw his tame volleyed effort easily saved by Lafuente.
Athletic were not rattled though and in first-half stoppage time they pressed down the other end of the field. Pablo Orbaiz hit a deep, diagonal cross from the right towards the near post. Striker Santiago Ezquerro had lost his marker but from only four metres out, contrived to head over the bar.
The second half was as close as the opening period, with clear chances proving equally rare. However, with 57 minutes played, Athletic's influential forward Joseba Etxeberria seized on to an Andoni Iraola pass on the edge of the area but drilled his shot wide of the far post.
Austria were the team that came closest to scoring with 15 minutes left of the second half. An excellent pass in behind the Athletic defence by Štepán Vachoušek gave substitute Radoslaw Gilewicz a clear sight of goal. The Polish striker - on for Sigurd Rushfeldt - tried to lob Lafuente but his effort was tame and straight into the arms of the grateful goalkeeper.