BASEL (Reuters) - Steaua Bucharest came agonisingly close to their first Champions League win in seven years on Wednesday before conceding a stoppage-time equalizer in a 1-1 draw at FC Basel.
The former European champions, winless in their last 21 outings in the competition, led with a 17th-minute breakaway goal by unsung Italian Federico Piovaccari, who has spent most of his career playing for lower tier clubs in his homeland.
Steaua defended well and appeared to be cruising towards their long-awaited win until French-born Ivorian Giovanni Sio, who has also experienced the less glamorous side of European football, side-footed an equalizer in the first minute of injury time.
"It wasn't bad luck, during the last minutes we lacked inspiration and experience," Steaua coach Laurentiu Reghecampf said.
Sio's goal prevented Basel from slumping to a second successive home defeat in a campaign that began in spectacular style with a 2-1 win at Chelsea.
The Swiss champions still have an outside chance of qualifying from Group E as they have five points, one behind Schalke 04, whom they visit in their final group game.
"Steaua made our lives difficult although we got better in the second half," Basel coach Murat Yakin said. "At the end we collected a deserved point. It makes the group very open."
Steaua went ahead when Lukasz Szukala floated a long pass over the Basel defense and Piovaccari, on loan from Sampdoria, broke clear, took his time and fired the ball into the roof of the net from close range.
It was the first goal in the Champions League proper for the 29-year-old, whose career has taken him to lower-tier clubs such as San Marino, Triestina, Treviso, Ravenna, Cittadella, Brescia, Novara and Grossetto.
Basel struggled to muster a reaction as their tricky Egyptian forward Mohamed Salah was largely kept quiet by the Steaua defense.
Steaua, who conceded seven goals in their first two games in the group, nearly had a second when a Florin Gardos close-range header was superbly saved by Yann Sommer just before the break.
The second half produced few chances, as Steaua's defence dominated a generally toothless Basel attack and the visitors seemed set for their first win in the competition since they beat Dinamo Kiev 4-1 away in 2006.
But Basel found an equalizer when a long ball out of defence was headed on by Sio to Valentin Stocker on the left. He chipped a return into the path of the former Real Sociedad, Sion, Augsburg, VfL Wolfsburg and Sochaux player, who outsprinted his marker and stretched to sidefoot the ball home for a dramatic finale to an otherwise mundane encounter.
(Writing by Brian Homewood in Berne, editing by Stephen Wood)