Bucharest - In a snowy Bucharest, FC Schalke 04 were held to a 0-0 draw by Romanian champions FC Steaua Bucuresti, leaving them in a must-win situation going into their final Group E game to qualify for the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League.

Despite good chances for Jefferson Farfan and Christian Fuchs, as well as an excllent defensive performance from Benedikt Höwedes, the visitors struggled to break the deadlock, with neither side truly deserving the win in an evenly-fought contest.

Snowy start

In near-blizzard conditions in the Romanian capital, the home side began comfortably, knocking the ball around and showing much more initiative than they had in Gelsenkirchen on Matchday 1. The opening exchanges, despite cursory displays of skill by Schalke youngster Max Meyer, offered little in front of goal. The first real opportunity fell the visitors’ way after 18 minutes, as Meyer’s cross ricocheted around, falling to Dennis Aogo, who unleashed a powerful but poorly-directed strike straight at Steaua keeper Ciprian Tatarusanu.

Ten minutes later, Tatarusanu was motionless as Farfan met a Fuchs cross on the volley, but contrived to put his flying attempt over, rather than under the bar. Schalke’s Champions League debutant custodian Ralf Fährmann was only tested once, 31 minutes in, and came out with flying colours. After a Steaua free-kick 30 yards out caused panic amongst the Schalke defence, Federico Piovaccari’s acrobatic attempt made its way through the crowd of bodies, and Fährmann, unsighted, parried away.

In, but out

From the resultant counter-attack, Farfan, Schalke’s most influential attacker, got to the byline and cutback for Fuchs, who duly slotted home. However, the Peruvian had crossed the byline in his drive to create the opening goal, and Fuchs’ effort was correctly disallowed. The chance seemed to remind Steaua of their defeat in Gelsenkirchen, who duly retreated into their shells, failing to muster up an opportunity of note before the break.

In a similar fashion, the hosts began the second half enterprisingly, but lacked a cutting edge in front of goal - which allowed Schalke to threaten on the break. 57 minutes in, Farfan so nearly found the final ball for Adam Szalai, while seconds later Fuchs crashed a shot off the advertising hoardings just wide of the Bucharest goal. Worryingly for Schalke, some defensive laxness began to creep in, as Felipe Santana failed to deal with a bouncing ball, and was only relieved of a fatal mistake by a mix-up between Andrei Prepelita and Alexandru Chipciu.

Höwedes to the rescue

Just after the hour mark, Jermaine Jones nodded wide with a free header from a corner, as did Lukasz Sukula at the other end. Höwedes, who marshaled his defence superbly throughout, could then have had his second goal in as many games from a Farfan centre, only to nod inches wide with the chance. The 74th minute entry of Julian Draxler for Meyer effected little change going forward in a frustrated Schalke - who almost conceded through a wicked Christian Tanase free-kick moments after the 20-year-old’s arrival.

Draxler almost had the final say though, his lolloping run through the Bucharest defence was joined by Szalai, whose tame shot was saved easily by Tatarusanu in Schalke’s last good chance, and even Fährmann’s charge off his line with five minutes remaining couldn’t settle the score - as Höwedes came to his rescue, leaving Schalke in the precarious position of needing to beat FC Basel 1893 at home in their final game to advance from the group stages.


FC Steaua Bucuresti: Tatarusanu - Prepelita (Stanciu, 82'), Szukala, Gardos, Latovlevici - Bourceanu, Neagu (Varela, 46') - Popa, Chipciu (Iancu, 77'), Tanase - Piovaccari

FC Schalke 04: Fährmann - Uchida, Höwedes, Santana, Aogo - Neustädter, J. Jones - Farfan, Meyer (Draxler, 73'), Fuchs (Obasi, 88') - Szalai

Daniel Thacker