Óscar Cardozo acknowledged FC Zenit St Petersburg were worthy winners in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League round of 16 tie – although he remains optimistic SL Benfica can recover a 3-2 deficit in the Lisbon return.
The Paraguay forward seemed to have earned his side a draw when he capitalised on goalkeeper Yuri Zhevnov's spill to make the score 2-2 with three minutes left. Midfielder Roman Shirokov had other ideas, though, exploiting an error from Maxi Pereira – who earlier had given Benfica the lead – to score his second goal and Zenit's third and leave Jorge Jesus's men needing victory in Portugal to stay in the competition.
"Zenit played really well today and they deserved to win," said Cardozo. "
I thought Shirokov had a great game, not just because he scored twice but because we were constantly battling it out in the same areas of the pitch and I found him a very difficult opponent to play against. He is an incredibly talented player and had a massive influence on this game."
The match was played in freezing temperatures in western Russia and Cardozo revealed Benfica had attempted to adapt their game plan accordingly. "We played the ball in the air a lot more than we are used to and we didn't use our usual passing game," he explained. "The conditions are the same for both sides and obviously you are going to get weather like this if you play in Russia in February. There was nothing we could do about that – we just had to go out and play to the best of our ability."
Despite his disappointment at the defeat, Cardozo – who now has four goals in this season's UEFA Champions League to go with 14 strikes in 17 Portuguese Liga appearances – has every confidence of a different outcome at the Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica on 6 March. "It wasn't the worst result," the 28-year-old said. "We only need to score once at home in order to go through.
We managed to score twice away from home which is always a massive help and those goals give us a great chance."
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