Anzhi Makhachkala and Newcastle United battled to a dull 0-0 stalemate in the first leg of their Europa League round of 16 tie.
Guus Hiddink named ex-Real Madrid midfielder Lassana Diarra and former Barcelona man Samuel Eto’o in his starting lineup, while his managerial counterpart Alan Pardew handed starts to a host of French players including Hatem Ben Arfa.
Anzhi started the brighter of the two teams with big-money January arrival Willian getting on the ball in good areas and helping to keep his side ticking over, and it was the hosts who had the first real opening of the match. Willian slid the ball through to Oleg Shatov, but instead of opting to shoot, he decided to try to pick out a teammate in the middle but the ball was cleared to safety.
Anzhi was dealt a blow halfway through the first half when Willian was forced to go off after picking up a knock - with freescoring forward Lacina Traore coming on in his place.
The Russian outfit tried to step it up a gear just past the half-hour mark, when Traore thought he was clean through on goal after latching on to an Eto’o through ball, only to be denied by the linesman’s flag.
Newcastle goalkeeper Rob Elliot was forced in to making his first save of the match when Eto’o ran with the ball before unleashing a dipping volley from 30 yards which was well put over by Tim Krul’s stand-in.
Neither side could manage to create any real openings - with Newcastle struggling to get into its stride going forward, and the match headed in to the interval goalless.
The second half continued in the same fashion as much of the first - with Newcastle struggling to keep the ball long enough to create any chances and Anzhi enjoying the majority of the possession.
The deadlock was almost on the hour mark when Traore laid the ball back for Odil Ahmedov to cross. He could only overhit his attempted ball in, but it broke to former Chelsea man Yuri Zhirkov, who chested it down for Eto’o to strike a hard, low shot that Elliot did well to put behind for a corner.
This seemed to spark Newcastle in to life, and the Magpies created their first chance of the game shortly after. Yohan Cabaye did well to pick out Ben Arfa inside the box, but his attempt to dink the ball over Vladimir Gabulov failed to come off, and the stopper made a comfortable save.
Anzhi continued to look for a vital goal with Eto’o again squandering a half chance in the closing moments of the match, and the tie remains delicately poised ahead of next Thursday’s second leg at St James’ Park.