Two goals from Roman Shirokov, the second with just two minutes remaining, helped Zenit St Petersburg to gain a slender 3-2 home win over Benfica in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 match last night.
Oscar Cardozo had taken advantage of a mishap from debutant goalkeeper Yuri Zhevnov to bring Benfica level at 2-2 just seconds earlier, only for Shirokov to round Artur and give the Russian side a precious lead to take to the second leg in Portugal in 19 days' time.
A superb goal from substitute Sergei Semak with 20 minutes left looked set to be the decider after superb movement down the right flank. Alexander Kerzhakov backheeled from the right flank to Vladimir Bystrov, who flicked into the path of Semak. The 35-year-old swivelled to backheel past Artur.
Maxi Pereira had earlier put the visitors ahead after 20 minutes, the 27-year-old Uruguayan knocking in from close range after Zhevnov was unable to hold Cardozo's low free-kick. The hosts were quick to reclaim the ascendancy, levelling just seven minutes later as Shirokov turned in a left-wing cross from Tomas Hubocan.
The 30-year-old Hubocan had ridiculed the notion of playing in such conditions, with the match starting in temperatures of -10C at the Petrovsky Stadium.
Zenit were missing first-choice goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeyev to a leg injury, and Zhevnov looked out of his depth as he struggled to adapt. The 30-year-old even took out his captain, Aleksandr Anyukov, as he hared from his line before half-time.
Benfica, the Portuguese league leaders, began brighter, before the hosts settled. Luisao became the first to fall foul of the conditions, earning a booking for a lunge on Viktor Faizulin. The cautions were quickly evened up, Bruno Alves forcing Rodrigo to be taken off by stretcher and eventually substituted.
Zenit, also top of their domestic league, missed the creativity of playmaker Danny but continued to press, forcing Artur to make a couple of crucial stops with his legs. Konstantin Zyryanov opted to cut back rather than shoot after taking advantage of a slack pass from Nicolas Gaitan, while at the other end, Witsel shot wide.
Zenit St Petersburg Zhevnov, Aniukov, Bruno Alves, Lombaerts, Hubocan, Denisov, Zyryanov (Semak, h-t) Shirokov, Kanunnikov (Bystrov, 66), Kerzhakov, Faizulin (Rosina, 90). Subs not used Borodin, Huszti, Lukovic, Cheminava.
Benfica Artur Moraes, Maxi Pereira, Luisao, Garay, Emerson, Matic, Witsel, Gaitan (Vitor, 90), Cardozo, Bruno Cesar (Nolito, 76), Rodrigo (Aimar, 30). Subs not used Eduardo, Nelson Oliveira, Saviola, Jardel.
Referee J Eriksson (Swe).
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- David Jones (Footballer)
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