Aleksandr Kerzhakov's first-half hat-trick earned FC Zenit St. Petersburg the points in Brussels as they kicked off UEFA Europa League Group G in commanding style against RSC Anderlecht.
The Belgian champions went into the match unbeaten since March – save for their UEFA Champions League play-off exit to FK Partizan on penalties – but that run looked in danger as early as the eighth minute when Kerzhakov headed in powerfully. The Russian international striker left it in tatters with two more efforts prior to the break, before Roland Juhász reduced the deficit.
It was clear from the start that Ariël Jacobs's men would not have everything their own way and their first defensive lapse proved costly. No one seemed aware to the danger as Sergei Semak broke down the right and Kerzhakov was left free to nod in the makeshift full-back's cross.
Zenit's No11 then forced Silvio Proto into a smart save, before his second goal on 33 minutes as the visitors sliced their way through once again. Served by Roman Shirokov on the edge of the area, Kerzhakov held off Nemanja Rnić and slotted triumphantly inside the near post.
Anderlecht still posed a threat, but Kerzhakov's finishing was on a higher plane and the 27-year-old claimed his third by curling high into the far corner from the left after substitute Viktor Fayzulin had dummied Danko Lazović's low cross.
Heads bowed at the interval, the home side nonetheless rallied after it, and following chances for Matías Suárez, Olivier Deschacht and Jan Polák, Juhász finally registered from substitute Jonathan Legear's corner. That restored belief, though it took Proto's fine stop from Lazović to keep things interesting.
They could have been a whole lot more intriguing had Anderlecht made their late pressure count. Instead, they will need to bounce back at HNK Hajduk Split on 30 September, when Zenit host AEK Athens FC.
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