Aleksandr Kerzhakov kept his cool from the spot 18 minutes from time as FC Zenit St Petersburg kick-started their UEFA Champions League campaign with a hard-fought triumph over RSC Anderlecht.
Coming into the game on the back of two defeats in as many Group C outings, the home side knew nothing short a victory would do against opponents who had not recorded a win in this competition since 2005. Luciano Spalletti's charges were frustrated for long periods but when Aleksandr Anyukov was hauled down Kerzhakov, scorer of a hat-trick at Anderlecht in 2010, took his chance from 12 metres.
The Russian champions had been slow to grab the initiative at a sodden Stadion Petrovski, battling the conditions as much as their visitors as they struggled to retain possession on a slick surface. Indeed, the first opportunity of the night fell to Anderlecht striker Milan Jovanović, who exchanged passes with Dennis Praet before firing fractionally wide with Vyacheslav Malafeev well beaten. Anderlecht's search for a first goal in this season's competition would continue.
Hulk was proving to be Zenit's main and only outlet, and he almost opened the scoring on 19 minutes with a free-kick that zipped off the surface and went just wide, though Silvio Proto probably had it covered. Anderlecht were content to put men behind the ball when they were not in possession and for considerable stretches Zenit were restricted to pot shots from distance.
With their hopes of qualifying for the knockout stage hanging by a thread, Zenit began to show more urgency in the second half, chipping away at the Belgian title holders' resolute defence. They were given a lifeline when Jovanović brought down Anyukov after a quickly taken free-kick. Kerzhakov stepped up to send Proto the wrong way.
Zenit had conceded six goals in their opening two matches and their defence looked shaky as Anderlecht pushed for an equaliser. However, aside from a dipping left-foot effort by Jovanović that went narrowly over the bar with seven minutes to go, Malafeev was untroubled as Zenit picked up three valuable points. Another three in Belgium in a fortnight and the once gloomy outlook could appear decidedly rosy.
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