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Ambitious Zenit ready to reduce Basel arrears

Published: Wednesday 13 March 2013, 20.04CET
FC Zenit St Petersburg have inspiration of their own when it comes to famous European fightbacks so will strive to turn around their tie with FC Basel 1893 when it resumes in Russia.
by Artem Nefedyev
from St Petersburg
Ambitious Zenit ready to reduce Basel arrears
Nicolas Lombaerts and his team-mates have been told to go for it by Zenit boss Luciano Spalletti ©AFP/Getty Images
Published: Wednesday 13 March 2013, 20.04CET

Ambitious Zenit ready to reduce Basel arrears

FC Zenit St Petersburg have inspiration of their own when it comes to famous European fightbacks so will strive to turn around their tie with FC Basel 1893 when it resumes in Russia.

Never mind UEFA Champions League comeback kings FC Barcelona, there is an example much closer to home that FC Zenit St Petersburg can follow in attempting to retrieve a 2-0 first-leg deficit against FC Basel 1893 in the UEFA Europa League round of 16.

For all Barcelona's heroics in fighting back from two down in their tie with AC Milan, Zenit need only leaf through their own recent history to see how it is done. The Russian title holders trailed Olympique de Marseille 3-1 at this same stage of the 2007/08 UEFA Cup, a competition they ended up winning. This time, though, they must recover the situation without the benefit of an away goal.

Hence the urgency in coach Luciano Spalletti's message to his players ahead of Thursday's Stadion Petrovski showdown with the Swiss champions. "The earlier we score the better," he said, "though in our situation it is important not to lose the balance between attack and defence. A goal in each half would put us right. We can score twice, the main thing is not to give Basel any more chances. Zenit have changed a lot in the last five years, with a lot of new players, but the fact there was a match where Zenit came from two down can give us extra motivation."

Zenit – who had Dick Advocaat in charge for that first European trophy triumph – appeared to have done the hard part at Basel last week, only to succumb to 83rd and 94th-minute goals from Marcelo Díaz and Alexander Frei. Now, fresh from resuming their Premier-Liga campaign with a 1-0 defeat by FC Rubin Kazan, Spalletti expects "a cagey game" from visitors "looking to hit on the counterattack".

His formula for victory – "we cannot just play through the centre, we have to stretch them" – if successful, can only lead to further continental exposure for his expensively-assembled team. "The main sign of our success is that when you meet someone from the other side of the world and tell them you are from Zenit, you get recognition," the Italian said.

Basel coach Murat Yakin, meanwhile, is eager to extend his side's European odyssey, which began in the UEFA Champions League second qualifying round, beyond this 16th match and into the last eight. "We have got through so many rounds and if we can make it to a quarter-final, it would be remarkable," the 38-year-old said. "But when you play at such a high level it is difficult. We will try to play as well as we did in the first leg. I'd say the tie is still 50-50."

Basel, who beat BSC Young Boys 3-0 in the Super League on Sunday, will be asked to keep their shooting boots on, despite the first-leg cushion. "We will not just defend," Yakin promised. "We will try to score too."

Last updated: 13/03/13 22.06CET

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