Zenit Needs Porto Victory to Qualify
Published: November 30, 2011 (Issue # 1685)
Zenit St. Petersburg has complicated its chances of entering the Champions League knock-out stages after a frustrating 0-0 draw at Petrovsky stadium last Wednesday to Cypriot champions APOEL.
The game’s outcome was to decide which of the two teams would move forward into the last 16 of the competition before the final group games on Dec. 6 and 7, with nothing less than victory needed by the home team, and a draw sufficient for group leader’s APOEL.
Having recorded eight successive home victories in the European competition, Zenit went into the game as match favorite, but it was group underdog APOEL that was left celebrating a remarkable unbeaten campaign at the final whistle with its fans.
Despite recording as many as two dozen shots on APOEL’s goal and restricting the away team to one shot in return, Zenit was left ruing a vicious yet ultimately fruitless attacking display.
The match was mired by the pyrotechnic display of St. Petersburg’s ever-enthusiastic ultras who twice set off a barrage of flares that engulfed the stadium in smoke, causing the referee to pause the game until the smoke-screens subsided. While the fan’s apparent intent was to rile up the home side for the win, a third pause threatened the cancellation of the match, forcing team coach Luciano Spalletti to cross the field and personally appeal to fan sectors to check their fervor.
While agonizingly close to entering the draw against the 16 best clubs in Europe, Zenit now faces the difficult task of avoiding defeat against Porto next Tuesday in the intimidating Dragao stadium in Portugal.
Spalletti remained upbeat about the team’s prospects.
“We will go to Porto with the same attitude and mentality that we have in every game now, and I am certain that we will play a very good match, because the team is healthy, on a good run and in great form,” he said.
Zenit extended its lead at the top of the Russian Premier League to six points in the last game before the winter break with a 2-1 win over Lokomotiv Moscow on Sunday.