Nicolae Dica's sumptuous strike gave FC Steaua Bucuresti a 1-0 first-leg advantage in their UEFA Cup semi-final against Middlesbrough FC in the Romanian capital, but Cosmin Olaroiu's team could live to regret a host of missed opportunities.
Dica scored his fourth goal of the competition on the half-hour. With Middlesbrough penned inside their own half, Mirel Radoi fed the ball to the forward, who held off George Boateng before swivelling and drilling a shot high into the net. It provided a deserved lead and Steaua could have won by more but spurned countless chances. However, with Sorin Paraschiv and Banel Nicolita suspended for the return in England in seven days, the tie remains tight.
Middlesbrough will hope to recover the injured Mark Viduka for that game, as the Australian centre-forward was sorely missed in Bucharest. Indeed, both sides struggled early on and it was not until the tenth minute that Steaua created the first real opening after Matthew Bates could only half-clear. Daniel Oprita headed the ball back into the danger area where Dica hooked over the crossbar. Bates was only playing because visiting manager Steve McClaren was without his first-choice centre-backs - injured captain Gareth Southgate and the suspended Chris Riggott. Yet the youngster and Ugo Ehiogu soon settled.
Radoi and George Ogararu both tried their luck from distance, but neither forced a save from Middlesbrough goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, who had rather more to think about when the unmarked Dica nodded a corner just past the upright. It marked the start of a spell of sustained pressure from the hosts, culminating in Dica's goal. Middlesbrough could have been level by the interval, though, as Boateng's cross was diverted on to the crossbar by a combination of Yakubu Ayegbeni and Ogararu, before Carlos Alberto Fernandes produced a fine stop to deny James Morrison from the resulting corner.
Schwarzer saved well from Dorin Goian eight minutes after the restart, and did even better to keep out Dica's effort after Stuart Parnaby's mistimed clearance gave the goalscorer an excellent chance to double his tally. The Australian international almost handed Goian another opening when he dropped a cross midway through the half, but Bates was on hand to clear. Then, with minutes remaining, Petre Marin screwed wide with the goal at his mercy as Middlesbrough held on.