Fenerbahçe SK will resume this UEFA Europa League round of 32 tie level at 0-0 next week after surviving 86 minutes with ten men against FC BATE Borisov in Belarus.
Raul Meireles's dismissal in the opening exchanges for a senseless trip on Aleksandr Hleb changed the complexion of the first leg, but the rusty home side could not break the Turkish team down – and never really came close.
This was BATE's first competitive outing since 5 December, and any fear of being caught cold by a Fenerbahçe outfit firing on all cylinders vanished with Meireles up the tunnel. Yet Viktor Goncharenko's men struggled to make their numerical advantage count; indeed, with Mehmet Topal, aka the 'Spider', weaving passes in midfield and Pierre Webó leading the line, the visitors kept them pegged back.
BATE lacked cohesion, trying to force the issue and use the full width of the pitch in Grodno rather than play to their narrow strengths. They were limited to pot-shots from distance, even after the tide turned ten minutes before half-time and the Belarusian champions began to take the initiative. They needed to be alert at the back too, with goalkeeper Andrei Gorbunov taking the ball off Webó's toes following Reto Ziegler's lofted ball over the top.
However, any Fenerbahçe attacks were consigned to memory in the second period as BATE pushed on, with Dirk Kuyt increasingly used as an auxiliary holding midfielder. Chances remained at a premium, though, the most notable coming eight minutes from time when Volkan Demirel sprang off his line to smother Aleksandr Volodko's effort at close quarters.
Aykut Kocaman's charges therefore take a 0-0 back to Istanbul for the second leg on 21 February, when BATE's Artem Radkov – like Meireles – will be suspended. It must feel like a win.
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