Zenit vs. Benfica  3 - 2


Spalletti happy with first-leg win

16 February 2012 01:12

Zenit St Petersburg coach Luciano Spalletti was pleased with his side after they took the advantage in their Champions League tie with Benfica.

In freezing conditions in Saint Petersburg, the Russian side fought back from a goal down in a tense opening leg, scoring through Roman Shirokov in the 88th minute to win it 3-2.

Benfica were unlucky to concede late after fighting back to 2-2 in what was an entertaining tussle despite the appalling conditions.

"It was a nervous match," Spalletti said.

"My players showed really good skill. They showed a lot of heart to win the match in such a grave situation."

"However they did exactly what we decided to do ahead of the match. We won deservedly tonight."

Visiting manager Jorge Jesus was understandably frustrated with the result given Oscar Cardozo had sensationally pulled Benfica level less than a minute before Shirokov's winner.

"It was really tough to play here. We allowed Zenit to score three goals, that means we defended poorly this evening. It's a pity," Jesus said.

But with the return leg at the familiar Estadio da Luz and with two away goals in the bag, Jesus was still full of belief.

"Nothing is finished yet. The place in the next round will be decided in the return match. I think it will be even more tough."


Champions League: Zenit St Petersburg 3 Benfica 2

15 February 2012 20:45

Zenit St Petersburg ran out 3-2 winners over Benfica in a thrilling Champions League round-of-16 first-leg clash at the Petrovsky Stadium.

Maxi Pereira opened the scoring for the visitors 20 minutes in on Wednesday, but Roman Shirokov hit back for the hosts seven minutes later to have things level at half-time.

Sergei Semak gave Zenit the lead at the 71-minute mark, but a goal from Oscar Cardozo three minutes from the end seemed to be enough to secure a draw for Benfica.

Shirokov, however, had other ideas and rounded off his brace one minute later to hand the Russian club the advantage before the return leg in Portugal on March 6.

Conditions were well below freezing, and with the home side playing their first competitive match in two months, it was no surprise that the first half unfolded in fits and starts with both teams struggling to establish a rhythm.

Perhaps befitting the tone of the opening exchanges, it was a scrappy goal from Benfica that broke the deadlock after 20 minutes. A free kick by Cardozo was fumbled by goalkeeper Yuri Zhevnov, which gave Pereira an empty net in which to poke home the rebound.

Zenit were not fazed by the setback, and went on the offensive moments later through Aleksandr Kerzhakov, who forced Benfica goalkeeper Artur to block his effort.

Artur could do nothing about the equaliser in the 28th minute, however, after an inviting cross by Tomas Hubocan was volleyed superbly by Shirokov into the bottom corner.

Neither side was able to maintain the momentum for long, and the match settled into a lull as the first half drew to a close. Things did not get much better after the interval, with both sides content to err on the side of caution as the second half progressed.

Cardozo was able to spark things into life in the 69th minute when he managed to squeeze a shot towards goal, forcing Zhevnov into an awkward scrambling save.

Two minutes later Zenit took the lead for the first time after another well-worked goal. Kerzhakov raced down the right to hook the ball towards Vladimir Bystrov, and his low cross found fellow substitute Semak, who turned the ball home with a clever flick.

Kerzhakov was at it again a few minutes later when he was found in space inside the area, but the forward elected to blast the ball into the side netting instead of cutting back for one of his better-placed team-mates.

With three minutes to go, Benfica grabbed an equaliser through Cardozo after a fumble by Zhevnov allowed the Paraguayan the simplest of finishes from barely a yard out.

But the drama was not done there, and Zenit regained the lead a minute later after a failed clearance by Pereira and a spill by Artur allowed Shirokov an open goal to give the Russian outfit a slender advantage heading into the second leg in Lisbon.


Champions League preview: Zenit St. Petersburg v Benfica

14 February 2012 12:24

Benfica's 11-match winning streak in all competitions will come under threat when they travel to Russia to meet Zenit St. Petersburg.

The first leg of the round-of-16 Champions League tie will see the leaders of both the Portuguese and Russian top flights collide on Wednesday.

Jorge Jesus' Benfica are five points clear of Porto atop Liga Sagres after a superb run of form.

The free-scoring side have hit the back of the net in their last 38 competitive fixtures; the last time they failed to score was in a 1-0 Europa League loss in the second leg of their semi-final against Sporting Braga.

The form of Oscar Cardozo has been crucial, with the Paraguayan having bagged 20 goals for the club in all competitions this season, including 11 in his last 10 appearances.

Spanish forward Rodrigo has 13 goals this season, and with five in his last four matches he also enters the match in red-hot form.

Benfica's terrific record in the Champions League this season will give them further confidence, with the Portuguese outfit one of just three sides to go through the group stages undefeated.

Another battle that Benfica face is the freezing weather in Russia, which is sure to play into the hands of the first-leg hosts.

Forecasts suggest the temperature will be below minus 10 degrees, which will surely make life difficult for the visitors.

Zenit have not been in especially good form this season in Europe and they have not played a competitive match since snaring a point in a goalless stalemate at Porto on December 6.

Prolific striker Alexander Kerzhakov will be Zenit's main threat having netted 16 goals from 22 league appearances this season.

Portuguese playmaker Danny will miss out for Zenit due to a knee injury, as will Vyacheslav Malafeev (calf) and Domenico Criscito (food poisoning).

Benfica are likely to be without Javi Garcia (knock) but Emerson and Luisao (thigh) should feature.


Benfica´s Garcia to miss Zenit trip

13 February 2012 02:30

Midfielder Javi Garcia has been ruled out of Wednesday's Champions League match at Zenit St Petersburg because of injury.

The Spaniard missed Saturday's 4-1 victory against Nacional in the Portuguese Liga Sagres and Benfica coach Jorge Jesus confirmed after the game that the player would not recover in time for the match in Russia.

"Javi suffered an injury yesterday (Friday)," Jesus told reporters. "I am sure he will not go to St Petersburg."

To replace Garcia in front of the defence, Jesus will deploy Nemanja Matic, who was a starter in Saturday's match.

"Matic had a great game, even though Javi is much more used to the team's movements than he is," Jesus said.

Benfica finished at the top of their Champions League group.

Premier League table

# Team MP D P
1 20 +17 45
2 20 +18 37
3 20 +13 37
4 20 +9 36
5 20 +11 35

Primeira Liga table

# Team MP D P
1 23 +50 61
2 23 +44 56
3 23 +33 56
4 23 +25 49
5 23 +0 36
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