Zenit Saint Petersburg vs Benfica Lisbon – Match Preview

Zenit Saint Petersburg vs Benfica Lisbon – Match Preview

It has been another frustrating weekend for Zenit Saint Petersburg, as Russia’s richest club failed to gain three points against league rivals FC Krasnodar in their first match after the winter break. Zenit had even brought in Russian national team players Aleksandr Kokorin and Yuri Zhirkov from league rivals Dinamo Moscow during the winter break.

With the new additions Zenit hoped to not only challenge for the Russian Football Premier League title in the spring, but also to make it at least to the quarterfinal of the UEFA Champions League. Now, just three matches into 2016—Zenit beat Kuban Krasnodar 2-1 in the Russian Cup on February 28—Zenit are in danger of missing the season targets, both in the Champions League and the RFPL.

On February 16 Zenit travelled to Lisbon to face Benfica in the first leg of the highly anticipated round of 16. Zenit coach André Villas-Boas arrived with a game plan to reach at least a tie in Lisbon in order to have all the chances in the return match, which will take place in Saint Petersburg on Wednesday, but instead Benfica dominated most of the match, but Zenit’s defence stood firm, and it appeared that Villas-Boas would get his result.

But then in the 91 minute Jonas Gonçalves Oliveira would score after a Nicolás Gaitán free kick, and Benfica will now travel to Russia with a 1-0 advantage. It is not impossible to overturn this advantage, but Benfica has proven that they are a force to be reckoned with, and a Benfica goal in Saint Petersburg would mean that Zenit would have to score at least three goals in order to advance.

On the weekend Zenit only managed a 0-0 draw against Krasnodar, and with CSKA Moscow winning the Moscow derby 1-0 against Spartak, Zenit and CSKA are now nine points apart and it appears that the Russian title is slipping away from Zenit.

Benfica meanwhile have won the Lisbon derby against Sporting on Saturday 1-0, and are now leading the Portuguese Primeira Liga. Hence, while Zenit have to overcome another disappointing league result, Benfica will be traveling to Russia with plenty of confidence.

Meanwhile, Evgeny Lovchev, former USSR national team player, has told championat.com “in the current form Zenit have no chance to beat Benfica.” Yet at the same time Zenit are carrying the hopes of an entire nation, as the Saint Petersburgers are the only remaining Russian club in UEFA competitions.

In fact Russian clubs have been disappointing in the first play off rounds, as both Lokomotiv Moscow and FC Krasnodar fell in the round of 32 in the Europa League. Now Zenit, the last Russian club left standing in Europe will attempt on Wednesday to carry forward the Russian flag in European football. The hope in Russia is that in the match Zenit Saint Petersburg vs Benfica Lisbon Zenit can once again prove that the Petrovsky Stadium is a fortress for Zenit and overturn a result against Benfica, even if current form makes this unlikely.

By Manuel Veth –