AEL Limassol FC kept alive their dream of a UEFA Champions League group stage place courtesy of a 1-0 victory against ten-man FC Zenit in the first leg of their third qualifying round tie.
Although Zenit, who had Axel Witsel sent off on 67 minutes, enjoyed the majority of possession, they ultimately paid the price for not converting their chances. Lukasz Gikiewicz buried AEL's only real opportunity of the game and the hosts defended stoutly thereafter.
Despite a goalless first half, Zenit were unlucky not to get their noses in front when Danny hit the woodwork on 24 minutes. Hulk, who continously troubled the AEL defence, dribbled past his marker to lay a clever pass into the heart of the area only for Danny's low shot to come back off Karim Fegrouche's right-hand post.
The Russian outfit piled on the pressure in the second half but failed to break the deadlock. Not long after coming off the bench, Luciano Bebê delivered a pinpoint cross into the area for the unmarked Gikiewicz to head past Yuri Lodygin from close range. Already a goal, behind Zenit faced even more of an uphill struggle when Witsel was handed a straight red card for a foul on Danielzinho. Hulk's relentless efforts on goal continued late into the second half, forcing Fegrouche into action on more than one occasion.
André Villas-Boas's side have it all to do when the two sides meet again for the second leg in St Petersburg next week.
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