The man in the mask made the difference for RSC Anderlecht as the Belgian club clinched their first UEFA Champions League home win in nine years, Dieudonné Mbokani's first-half effort downing FC Zenit St Petersburg to revive his side's campaign.
Playing in a protective mask after suffering a broken nose last month, Mbokani scored Anderlecht's first goal in Group C after 17 minutes in Brussels, ending one drought to help the hosts be done with another of far longer standing. The Congolese forward and his colleagues then worked doggedly to preserve their lead, limiting Zenit to a handful of openings as they leapfrogged their Russian rivals in the standings.
Snapping at their opponents' heels, Anderlecht came out looking energised and driven, but also susceptible on the break, with Vladimir Bystrov a quick-heeled threat down the right. It was centre-back Nicolas Lombaerts who delivered Zenit's first menacing effort, though, the Belgian defender almost squeezing his shot through Silvio Proto's hands following a corner, forcing the goalkeeper to smother the ball at the second attempt.
Despite that scare, Anderlecht continued pressing and finally registered their first Group C strike after 287 minutes of action. If anything, the quality of the goal made that statistic all the more remarkable, as Mbokani exchanged a slick one-two with Sacha Kljestan on the edge of the area before calmly clipping the ball over keeper Vyacheslav Malafeev.
Seven minutes later, Les Mauves almost had their second, Milan Jovanović prompting Malafeev to save low to his right with a vicious drive. This was the performance the home fans had been waiting for, and there was a maturity to how John van den Brom's troops then saw out the half, capably snuffing out danger.
Needing greater vitality, Zenit sent on Danny for Sergei Semak after the break, and the fit-again Portuguese midfielder helped to up the tempo as he made only his second appearance since December. Proto denied Axel Witsel as the Russian champions set about establishing control, but they found Cheikhou Kouyaté particularly impressive at the back and had to beware as Anderlecht maintained a watchful eye for counterattacking chances.
Indeed, it was the home team who came closest to scoring next when Ukrainian substitute Olexandr Yakovenko blasted against the top of the crossbar as the ball broke free to him on the right. With Luciano Spalletti's side unable to muster a late riposte, Anderlecht held on to claim a breakthrough result which leaves them a point shy of second-placed AC Milan – their next opponents on 21 November, when Zenit host section leaders Málaga CF.
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