Don't try telling anyone from the full house at Goodison Park last night that the Uefa Cup is simply an inferior level of European competition to Liverpool's. An open game full of chances against the technically proficient, recently crowned Russian champions saw Everton clinch a dramatic win five minutes from time to win the group and guarantee European football after Christmas at Goodison for the first time in 23 years.
The visitors could claim, with justification, some misfortune. They played with 10 men here for an hour after centre-back Nicolas Lombaerts was adjudged to have cleared off the line with his hand it was actually his chest as he threw himself at a shot aimed at an empty net by Tim Cahill, who had nodded Steven Pienaar's through ball beyond the keeper and skipped through.
Zenit manager Dick Advocaat later railed against young referees such as Kristinn Jakobsson "he was very quick to give it; you get that with young, inexperienced people who think it is simple," he said and even David Moyes admitted that the decision was unjustified. There was a poetic justice in the way Mikel Arteta skied the penalty.
The visitors certainly served notice of their potential. Russia international forward Andrey Arshavin, in particular, showed great technical ability and his 20-yard shot after a lay-off by Pavel Pogrebnyak seemed to strike Phil Neville's hand. Moyes later revealed the sound practical reasons why he had not been scouting Arshavin. "He is a fantastic player but Everton can't afford the roubles," said the manager.
Moyes could afford to smile. Advocaat had suggested before the game that Everton were comparatively unsophisticated "they play a typical style of English football. We have more technical types of players. In our league, we play pass and move, one and two touch football" but the creative input from Arteta (who else?) and Steve Pienaar surpassed anything the Russians had on offer. "I agree that Zenit had some extremely technical players but we did too," was Moyes' diplomatic response to Advocaat. In Cahill, he also has a proven finisher, as six goals in his last nine games show.
Moyes did not make bold pronouncements about his side's capacity to make it to May's final at the City of Manchester stadium, though in the two golden chances Zenit spurned in the second half there was evidence that the likes of Athletico Madrid and Hamburg may present some problems. Pogrebnyak allowed Tim Howard to save after Arshavin had sent him through and Zonstantin Zyrianov, another of Guus Hiddink's internationals, was sent clear in space but he volleyed into the stand with Howard at his mercy.
Though the returning Andrew Johnson looked like he is keen to prove a point or two, very nearly capitalising on a misunderstanding between the vulnerable centre-back Martin Skrtel and the goalkeeper in a first half that the hosts dominated, Everton's final pass will also need to be more assured when competition resumes. Skrtel provided three clear chances but James McFadden's cross, after he had slipped past the defender, went straight to Kin Dong Jin while Pienaar lacked the final delivery from a similar position.
But for now Moyes can luxuriate in resting players for a final group game in Nuremberg which is now of no significance, and wait to see if Liverpool may yet lie ahead in this tournament.
Everton (4-4-2): Howard; Neville, Jagielka, Lescott, Baines; Pienaar, Cahill, Carsley, Arteta; Johnson (Vaughan, 81), McFadden (Anichebe, 64). Substitutes not used: Wessels, Gravesen, Osman, Yakubu, Boyle.
Zenit St Petersburg (4-4-2): Malafeev; Aniukov (Lee, 78), Skrtel, Lombaerts, Jin; Sirl, Tymoschuk, Zurianov, Dominguez (Gorshkov, ht); Pogrebnyak (Hagen, 61), Arshavin. Substitutes not used: Contofalsky, Radimov, Ionov, Lebedev, Gorshkov.
Referee: K Jakobsson (Iceland).Reuse content