Holders Sevilla put one foot in the quarter-finals of the Europa League after securing a 0-0 draw at Basel in the first leg of their last-16 clash at St Jakob-Park.
In the stadium where the final will be played on May 18, the Liga side kept their quest to win a record-breaking third consecutive Europa Leauge title on course and Unai Emery’s men will fancy their chances in the return encounter.
Sevilla have won their last 15 matches in all competitions at Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium and it is their away form that has been a problem, having lost all four of their games on their travels in Europe this season.
But in Switzerland they looked solid and resolute, creating few chances and absorbing what little pressure they came under from Basel, with the second-half sending off of Steven N’Zonzi the only fly in the ointment.
For Basel, the chances of pulling of a shock now look slim, but they will hope the return from suspension of young striker Breel Embolo might inspire them in Seville.
Striker Marc Janko missed a golden opportunity to put Basel ahead when Renato Steffen’s cross found him unmarked in the box after six minutes, but the Austrian powered his header wide.
Icelandic midfielder Birkir Bjarnason beat the Sevilla offside trap and had the goal at his mercy moments later, but his first touch let him down and visiting goalkeeper David Soria gratefully gathered the ball.
Veteran Basel defender Walter Samuel ruled himself out of the second leg when he picked up a booking for hauling down Michael Krohn-Dehli, but Sevilla offered little by way of attacking threat in the first half.
Despite a vociferous crowd creating a great atmosphere, neither side seemed keen to gamble by committing men forward and a cagey first half ended goalless.
Basel’s best chance of the game fell to Bjarnason, who had the whole goal to aim at when Steffen’s shot rebounded to him in the box, but he blazed his effort high and wide.
At the other end, N’Zonzi brought the best out of Tomas Vaclik when he hit a fierce shot from close range that the Czech goalkeeper rushed out and spread himself to save.
In the closing stages, Matias Delgado found space to hit a well-struck shot towards goal from 20 yards, but it flew over. The late dismissal of N’Zonzi for a second bookable offence will leave the Liga club weakened for the second leg, although Emery will be confident of progressing.