By Dennis Novitsky at Petrovsky stadium
A hat-trick from Aleksandr Kerzhakov in 20 second-half minutes helped Zenit St. Peterburg cruise to a 5-1 victory against AEK Athens FC in the opening match of UEFA Cup Group H.
Last season's Russian Premier League runners-up recovered from falling a goal behind inside the first five minutes to record the emphatic win, with Andrei Arshavin and Igor Denisov finding the net in addition to Kerzhakov's three goals.
The match began in bright fashion and with just three minutes on the clock AEK took the lead. Sotiris Konstantinidis fired in a shot which rebounded off the post and straight to Asimakis Krassas, who scored from close range.
Buoyed by the goal, AEK pressed for a second and Viacheslav Malafeev needed to be on top form to stop an effort from Alessandro Soares. But the home side were rewarded for their efforts a minute before half-time, Vladimir Bystrov's cross evading Kerzhakov but eventually falling to Arshavin, who found the corner of the net.
No sooner had the second half started than Zenit were ahead, Kerzhakov rounding off a great solo run by beating AEK goalkeeper Chrisostomos Mihailidis thanks to a fortunate rebound. Ten minutes later, Arshavin's shot somehow found its way underneath the AEK goalkeeper and made it 3-1. Kerzhakov then added his second, sliding the ball in from a tight angle.
After a series of near misses, Kerzhakov completed his hat-trick, in the 68th minute, collecting Bystrov's pass and rounding Mihailidis before slotting in.
With the game effectively over, substitute Denisov added a fifth from close range after Olexandr Gorshkov's shot had been saved. Zenit next face LOSC Lille Métropole on 4 November, while AEK do not play again until 25 November, also against Lille.
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