By Igor Linnyk at Valeriy Lobanovskiy stadium
Villarreal CF have the upper hand in their UEFA Cup Round of 32 tie after staunch defending earned a valuable goalless draw at Dynamo Kyiv FC.
The Ukrainian side, in the competition after narrowly missing out on a last 16 berth in the UEFA Champions League, were hot favourites going into the game but looked rusty in their first competitive match for over two months. Instead it was the Spanish UEFA Intertoto Cup winners who took the initiative with a resolute defensive performance while constantly threatening on the break in freezing conditions in Kiev.
It was from one such counterattack that the visitors created the first clear-cut chance, when on 16 minutes José Mari Romero cushioned the ball into the path of Luciano Gabriel Figueroa, but the Argentinian striker shot straight at goalkeeper Olexander Shovkovskiy from ten metres out. But following a frenetic opening, which saw Juan Manuel Peña booked, it was Dynamo that took control.
On 23 minutes Florin Cernat created the home side's first real opportunity, sending in a teasing right-wing cross that shot across goal but Diogo Rincón, Ayila Youssouf and Maxim Shatskikh were all unable to reach it as the ball drifted to safety. Cernat later attempted to lob José Manuel Reina, but that effort also sailed wide as the Villarreal back-line, marshalled by the imperious Quique Álvarez began to look impervious.
Diogo Rincón did manage to break the resistance in the closing moments of the half, when the Brazilian playmaker skipped past several defenders before offloading the ball to Kleber. The young striker hit a low drive across goal, which missed the far post by a matter of centimetres as it began to look like it was not to be the Ukrainian champions' day.
But although Dynamo dominated the match, Villarreal remained a threat on the break and shortly after the restart, José Mari blasted an effort just over the crossbar. Cernat could have broken the deadlock two minutes later but in a sequence that typified his side's performance, he dallied on the ball for too long when well placed, allowing the defence to recover.
Seeking a goal, Joszef Szabo introduced Latvian international striker Maris Verpakovskis to inject pace into the Dynamo attack, but it was Diogo Rincón who was the architect of the next move, producing a curling shot that drifted just wide. Cernat should have got on the end of a cross soon after but looked tired after his first-half exertion.
Although the home side kept pressing for a goal, with Oleh Gusev and substitute Miloš Ninkovic both wasting good opportunities to give Dynamo a precious home victory, confident defending and an excellent display from Reina ensured that the Spanish side were able to weather the storm in the final ten minutes. The Ukrainian strikers will have another chance to test him next Thursday in the return leg at the Madrigal.