By Aleksandar Boskovic at FK Crvena Zvezda stadium
FC Zenit St. Peterburg secured their place in the inaugural UEFA Cup group stage with victory in Belgrade tonight, but in truth their participation was never in doubt following their 4-0 first-leg win against FK Crvena Zvezda.
The 1990/91 European champions had already seen their UEFA Champions League hopes ended in the third qualifying round by PSV Eindhoven, and have now lost three UEFA competition matches in a row for the first time in the club's history, watched only by an 18,000 crowd, their lowest for 15 years.
Despite those troubles, Crvena Zvezda began brightly, their midfield players joining the attack regularly. In the second minute Marjan Markovic set up Nikola Žigic, whose shot from five metres was saved by Viacheslav Malafeev, and the tall visiting goalkeeper was also on hand to stop a header from the same striker - 24 years old this week - following an Aleksandar Lukovic cross.
Crvena Zvezda score
On 17 minutes, though Malafeev was beaten. Markovic's incisive pass found Marko Pantelic, who outpaced the Zenit defence and found the net from 14 metres out. Within six minutes, Žigic had two further chances, heading off target each time from not far out, after crosses from Marko Perovic.
Zenit wrest control
However, Crvena Zvezda were unable to keep up that early pace, and gradually their already faint hopes faded further. Zenit took control, and late in the half went close on three occasions, as Vladimir Disljenkovic saved Igor Denisov's effort from the edge of the area, and both Lukáš Hartig and Andrei Arshavin shot off target from close range.
After the break, recently appointed Crvena Zvezda coach Ratko Dostanic, switched from a 3-5-2 formation to a 3-4-3 lineup to accommodate Nenad Stojanovic, but Zenit kept up the pressure on the counterattack. Finally, on 58 minutes, they levelled on the night after Arshavin ran into the box and was brought down by substitute Bojan Miladinovic. Olexandr Spivak, who was dominating proceedings, converted the penalty.
The home team now needed to score five further goals to enter Tuesday's draw, but their only chance of the second half came and went eleven minutes from time when Dragan Šarac, not long on as a substitute, found Žigic, but the forward again could not force the ball in.
Five minutes later, Zenit completed their victory, as substitute Dmitri Makarov stole the ball from the Crvena Zvezda defence, beat three players and shot into the right-hand corner from 12 metres out.