Vyacheslav Malafeev has warned his FC Zenit St Petersburg team-mates to beware of the wounded animal when they take on SL Benfica in Lisbon seeking to clinch their first UEFA Champions League quarter-final appearance.
Benfica's 3-2 home defeat by title rivals FC Porto last Friday night was their third in a four-match winless sequence and Malafeev is expecting a reaction from Jorge Jesus's hosts as they look to overturn Zenit's 3-2 first-leg advantage. "I didn't see the match [against Porto], but as a quality side I think that Benfica will somehow react to it and make it hard for us," said Malafeev, who missed the first meeting in St Petersburg with a calf injury.
Malafeev has good reason to be wary of a visit to Lisbon. The 33-year-old played as a second-half substitute for Russia in their 2-0 defeat by Portugal at the Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica in the UEFA EURO 2004 group stage. Later that year, on 13 October, he was on the receiving end of a seven-goal rout when Russia returned to Portugal for a FIFA World Cup qualifier – and crashed 7-1 at the Estadio José de Alvalade.
Hence his reticence when he was asked at Tuesday's press conference which Benfica players he considered the biggest threat to a Zenit side who will tomorrow play their 100th match in UEFA club competition. Malafeev, who made his first appearance of 2012 in the 2-2 draw with PFC CSKA Moskva on Saturday, said: "I don't want to talk about the players who I think are the best from Benfica because it could be tricky."
Benfica's run of one defeat from their last 19 European home fixtures – 15 of them victories – suggests as much, whatever their recent troubles. Not surprisingly, given his past experiences, Malafeev was quick to add: "Things may turn against me, so I'd rather be quiet and just perform the best I can."
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