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Zenit St. Petersburg were able to come away with a late win at the bone-chilling Stadion Petrovskiy in a 3-2 victory over Benfica in their first leg in the Champions League’s round of 16, giving them a tiny lead going da Luz in March. It was a hard-fought battle, but the -10 degree weather seemed to take its toll on the Portuguese side and give the advantage to the hometown team Zenit.
“Our team has great character and incredible heart,” said Zenit head coach Luciano Spalletti in a post game interview, “we did what we were planning to do, what we were supposed to do, despite the poor condition of the pitch Benfica was the first team on the scoreboard after Maxi Pereira was able to score in the 20th minute off a rebound after a free-kick that seemed to slip out of the Zenit goalkeepers hands.
Roman Shirokov was able to tie the game up for Zenit seven minutes later after an amazing volley that he received from a crossing pass. The goal was the last goal of the half, but both teams had several scoring chances before the halftime whistle was blown. After several more chances from both sides at the beginning of the second half. Sergei Semak was able to give Zenit the lead in the 71st minute with a beautiful back-heel shot that tricked the Benfica goalkeeper and rolled into the bottom left corner.
Fifteen minutes later, Benfica was able to tie the game up after another error from the Zenit goalkeeper which led to Oscar Cardozo picking up the dropped ball and putting it in the back of the net. Both teams pushed hard for the goal that would give them the one-goal lead going into the second leg, but Zenit would be the only team to capitalize thanks to Shirokov scoring his second goal of the night one minute after Benfica tied the game up.
“We changed the course of the match, scoring the winning goal,” said Spalletti, “we have to get that in the return match. I leave that for the match in Lisbon.” Benfica will host Zenit on March 6 at da Luz, in the second leg of the tournament between the two teams.