Juventus marked their return to the UEFA Champions League after a three-year absence with a narrow win against FC Zenit St. Petersburg which was earned by a trademark free-kick from Alessandro Del Piero.
Deadly Del Piero
Juventus had failed to find their spark for most of the Group H match, only really threatening the UEFA Cup and UEFA Super Cup holders from set-pieces – but that proved enough. With 14 minutes to go, Zenit gave away one foul too many and Del Piero took full advantage, showing that he remains as dangerous as ever with the dead ball by lacing it into the roof of the net.
The players had enjoyed a rapturous welcome as the Curva Scirea erupted at the sight of their side emerging on to this stage for the first time in three seasons. For Zenit, though, this was also a momentous night. It was their UEFA Champions League debut, and a large flag depicting Andrei Arshavin with a finger to his lips was a warning to the hosts. The Zenit No10 began brightly too, orchestrating a sweeping move from which the visitors should have scored eleven minutes in. Danny charged upfield, supported by Pavel Pogrebnyak who crossed to the far post; Igor Denisov headed the ball back across goal, where Danny somehow screwed it wide with only Gianluigi Buffon to beat.
Juventus were subdued until, after 15 minutes, they stated their intent: Del Piero picked out David Trezeguet's run with a pinpoint cross which the Frenchman glanced wide. Del Piero looked lively, his close control and trickery providing a marked contrast to Mohamed Sissoko's rugged style, although it was the latter's tough tackling and midfield drive which helped swing the momentum the way of the hosts. They almost took the lead on 26 minutes when Mauro Camoranesi's near-post header hit the post following Del Piero's curled free-kick. Camoranesi had also caught the eye but his premature exit, after a knock to his calf, stymied Juve's creativity.
On an uneven-looking pitch, Claudio Ranieri's men struggled to string their passes together and with invention at a premium the Italian side began resorting to route one. Trezeguet fired over after 51 minutes after running on to Buffon's clearance. Zenit, meanwhile, had been limited to shots from distance, with Danny's hopeful 33rd-minute effort never really troubling the Italy No1, yet after the break Dick Advocaat's team showed greater purpose. Aleksandr Anyukov, Denisov and Danny all found space down the right only for their crosses to be repelled each time. But for Buffon, though, a Russian breakthrough would have arrived after 56 minutes: Radek Šírl controlled Arshavin's low pass superbly but was smothered by the quick reactions of the outrushing keeper.
Del Piero strike
The Bianconeri's only real menace appeared to stem from set-pieces, and they came close to grabbing the advantage when Pavel Nedvěd's free-kick was flicked on by Christian Poulsen and Vyacheslav Malafeev saved brilliantly at the far post. Zenit failed to heed the warning, however, as Nedvěd was brought down 30 metres out; this time Del Piero stepped up and, for once, Malafeev could not intervene.