There was joy – and no little surprise – at FC Zenit St. Peterburg as they cut short their winter break to defeat Villarreal CF 1-0 at home in the first leg of their UEFA Cup Round of 32 meeting last night.
A home victory was not universally predicted, as Zenit had not played a competitive match since 5 December while Villarreal are flying high in the Primera División. Instead Pavel Pogrebnyak's 63rd-minute goal gave the Russian champions the edge ahead of next week's return; not bad for a club who since the group stage have seen defenders Martin Škrtel and Erik Hagen leave for English clubs, forcing midfield signing Roman Shirokov to start at centre-back. But Russia goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev was on hand to save on a number of occasions including when Nihat Kahveci raced clear in the first half.
No subs needed
Zenit coach Dick Advocaat, whose team's league season does not begin until three days after the Round of 16 is completed in mid-March, said: "After three or four weeks preparation we faced one the best teams in Europe. I am very happy with how the team did, not least tactically." The Dutchman's starting XI even played for the full 90 minutes, belying fears of rustiness. "One needs subs when there is a need to change something in the game," Advocaat added. "Today there was no such need."
Victor Fayzulin, signed in December from FC Spartak Nalchik, made his debut in the Zenit midfield and was thrilled by the outcome. "Like many others, I expected a lot more from the team third in the Spanish league," he said. "I thought they would torture us a bit in the early stages but they did nothing. They were just an ordinary side. We were better tactically."
Russia striker Pogrebnyak had several chances to score and ultimately made the most of a through-ball from Andrei Arshavin and a misunderstanding between the visiting goalkeeper and a defender. "To tell the truth I still do not understand clearly what happened," said the 24-year-old after scoring Zenit's 100th goal in Europe. "The goalkeeper went to one side and the ball went to the other. I was lucky, but you make your own luck. It is great that we won but let us wait for the return leg before talking about our chances of going through."
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