By Ivan Carvalho
Parma FC endured a night of frustration in the first leg of their UEFA Cup semi-final with PFC CSKA Moskva as the Russian side held firm at the Stadio Ennio Tardini to grind out a goalless draw.
The Italian side came into the match understandably distracted by the relegation battle that they face in Serie A which was also reflected in the starting lineup. Coach Pietro Carmignani selected a young squad which included teenagers Daniele Dessena and Filippo Savi, deciding to rest star striker Alberto Gilardino along with Domeinco Morfeo.
CSKA coach Valeriy Gazzaev, meanwhile, had a well-rested group of players at his disposal after their league game over the weekend was postponed, with the suspended Evgeni Aldonin the only major absentee.
The Russian team appeared more lively in the opening 15 minutes as they attempted to unlock their opponents' well organised trio of defenders, lead by an impressive performance from Cesare Bovo. CSKA's Brazilian midfield player Daniel Carvalho orchestrated most of the attacks the visitors mounted but Parma goalkeeper Luca Bucci was hardly threatened all evening as his defence held firm.
With teenagers Dessena and Savi making up a less experienced midfield for the Italian team, Parma's forwards often dropped back looking for the final pass to set them free. Once opening nerves subsided, however, the Parma midfield duo began to use their pace to hamper CSKA and it was the centre of the pitch which saw most of the action as the two sides tussled for possession without threatening either goal.
Despite the slow pace of the game in the opening 45 minutes, CSKA could have gone into half-time with a vital away goal. In the final minute of the half, Milos Krasic dribbled past two Parma defenders to set up Deividas Semberas but the Lithuanian could not apply the finish, badly scuffing his effort high over Bucci's goal.
The action picked up in the second period with CSKA dominating possession and introducing Vágner Love to their attack shortly after the restart. The Brazilian's pace and link-up play with his compatriot Carvalho gave the Moscow team more fluidity in the final third of the pitch.
Yet surprisingly it was the youngsters of Parma who threatened first when Vignaroli picked out a charging Tonino Sorrentino just after the hour. The striker split two CSKA defenders and nearly got a touch on the ball only to be thwarted by Igor Akinfeev, who punched clear.
Carvalho then had a clear chance in front of goal when CSKA's Chidi Odiah sought him out with a well-placed cross. But again poor finishing from the Russian team was the result as the midfield player's right-foot shot was struck weakly.
With 20 minutes remaining fatigue set in for the visitors after Parma's defence had done well to close down the middle and push CSKA to the wings. Seeing an opportunity to exploit this weakness, the home side enjoyed their best attacking spell of the match. Indeed, Vignaroli must have been frustrated after a fine effort unleashed from 20 metres was ably pushed away from goal by Akinfeev in the dying minutes.
It was a save that meant CSKA took a level scoreline back to Moscow for next week's second leg in front of a home crowd which has yet to see them lose in the UEFA Cup this season. Parma will be further hampered by suspension to midfield player Fabio Vignaroli after he was booked tonight.