A late penalty allowed FC Porto to escape a difficult night in Switzerland with an away goal and a 1-1 draw against an FC Basel side that didn’t play much flowing football but snagged a share of the spoils in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League round of 16 match.
Derlis Gonzalez gave Basel a first half lead before Danilo equalized from the spot to send the Portuguese back home for the second leg with an advantage.
It was a tough, vigorous, often unattractive affair at the St. Jakob-Park, English referee Mark Clattenburg dishing out eight yellow cards to keep things from boiling over amidst mistimed tackles. Clattenburg and his crew also bravely — and correctly — disallowed an apparent Porto goal in the 48th minute.
Article continues below ...
Replays confirmed that the ruling, after a lengthy discussion with two assistants, was right but it left Porto fuming on a night when tempers always seemed to be on edge among both sets of players.
For all that, the visitors will certainly think they came out of a tricky first leg well-placed to advance on March 10 when the second leg takes place in Portugal. They were the only attacking force in a match that Basel tried to strangle and almost succeeded in doing so.
Porto was caught napping on Basel goal, when the Paraguayan Gonzalez ran down a wonderful Fabian Frei pass, got ball-side of defender Alex Sandro, fought off more pressure and finished with the outside of his foot in the 11th minute. It was a quality goal and came off the only real attack of the match by the home side.
However Gonzalez took a whack to the side of his head in the process, goalkeeper Fabiano catching him with his leg as he tried to prevent the shot, so had to be substituted some 11 minutes later. He went down to the turf, clearly groggy, and was immediately taken to the dressing room leaving Basel without their prime attacking option.
The goal served to reinforce a defensive game plan for Basel and led to a first half that was scrappy, foul-pocked and never pretty. Jackson Martinez could not shake the attention of Walter Samuel so the Porto midfielders didn’t have much to aim at up front. They, themselves, were being harried by the Swiss side’s midfielders who thought little about building attacks and a lot about denying the visitors any space to work with.
Porto did have one muted penalty appeal when Samuel and Martinez came together in the box just past the half hour and would have wished that Cristian Tello had timed his 38th minute run a bit better when he got on the end of a good pass and found the net, but was clearly a step offside.
Porto then thought they were level in the 48th minute when Maicon had a free header to a corner, keeper Tomas Vaclik could only parry and Casemiro slotted the rebound to the far corner. But, after a lengthy discussion the officials ruled that Vaclik’s path to the rebound was impeded. Replays confirmed that, indeed, two Porto players were directly between him and the scorer.
Porto was miffed at the decision, the game simmered along and both teams were guilty of needless fouls and off-the-ball conversation while not creating much in terms of chances.
Tello did get in on the right in the 59th minute but Vaclik reacted well at his near post to parry the shot. Jackson Martinez had his best look of the match six minutes later when he wriggled free of cover to get in on top of Vaclik, but his delicate chip over the keeper landed on the top net.
It did not help the visitors when Oliver Torres went off with an apparent shoulder injury in the 70th minute as he had been the provider of their best defense-testing passes.
Porto got its deserved reward with 11 minutes to play, Danilo giving Vaclik no chance from the penalty spot after his cross had been handled by Samuel, who went to ground to try to cut out the pass but could not avoid making illegal contact. After a night when too many decisions were questioned by the players, even Samuel didn’t argue with Clattenburg after the referee pointed to the spot.