Pavel Pogrebnyak chose an opportune moment to end his goal drought as his finely taken first-half strike set up a crucial 2-0 victory for FC Zenit St. Petersburg in Group H and put a dampener on FC BATE Borisov's Belarussian title celebrations.
Pogrebnyak had not scored in ten games going into the match in Minsk yet showed little rustiness as he broke the deadlock on 34 minutes following a swift Zenit counterattack. The goal silenced the Dinamo Stadium, which had been in celebratory mood after BATE claimed their domestic crown on Friday, and though Zenit's Sébastien Puygrenier was sent off midway through the second half, a late Sergei Kryvets free-kick was the closest the hosts came to equalising. Instead it was left to Danny, four minutes into stoppage time, to add gloss to Zenit's first-ever UEFA Champions League win.
Dick Advocaat's side needed three points to maintain realistic hopes of advancing to the knockout stage and they played with purpose early on – Radek Šírl and Konstantin Zyryanov trying their luck from distance while home goalkeeper Sergei Veremko was called upon to keep out an Anatoliy Tymoschuk effort. Yet, as BATE showed at the Petrovsky Stadium on 21 October, they are not easily intimidated and it was the home team who conjured the best opening of the initial exchanges. An Igor Stasevich corner caused mayhem in the Zenit defence as Vyacheslav Malafeev failed to collect the ball and Pavel Nekhaychik pounced, only for the keeper to recover and smother his attempt.
It was a stark warning, but one that Zenit heeded. Andrei Arshavin was soon bristling with ideas, even if he could not marry them with a final ball, and his strike partner Pogrebnyak eventually found the breakthrough. Zyryanov led a swift counterattack, carrying the ball deep into BATE territory before threading a pinpoint pass through the retreating back line to Pogrebnyak. The forward controlled well with his left foot and lifted the ball over Veremko to put the deposed Russian champions ahead.
A fortnight ago it was BATE who had gone in front before Fatih Tekke earned Zenit a share of the spoils, and the Borisov outfit looked determined to turn the tables as they threw men forward, especially at set-pieces. Sergei Sosnovski almost profited from the ploy having been left unmarked following a corner, yet his point-blank strike was parried by Malafeev, before his follow-up effort was deflected past the upright by a goalline block.
The downside of BATE's attacking approach was that gaps began to appear at the back. It required a perfectly timed tackle from the excellent Vladimir Rzhevski to stop Igor Denisov as Zenit broke with extra men; the defender's intervention came at a cost, however, as he immediately had to be substituted. Fortunately for BATE, much of the action unfolded in the other half although clear openings remained at a premium, and even the dismissal of Puygrenier for a second yellow card failed to break the shackles. Kryvets went close yet Danny would have the final word, weaving in from the left wing and calmly slotting into the corner to seal the away victory.