By Mark Bennett
A last-minute penalty from Stefan Blank earned TSV Alemannia Aachen a 2-2 draw against FC Zenit St. Peterburg in Cologne and ensured that the German side retained their hopes of progressing from UEFA Cup Group H while denying the Russian visitors the opportunity to seal their place in the last 32.
On the spot
With less than 60 seconds remaining, Blank coolly converted from the spot after Chris Iwelumo had been brought down in the area to give the German side a point. Earlier Erik Meijer had given the home side the lead, but strikes from Vladislav Radimov and Olexandr Gorshkov either side of the break had turned the match in the visitors' favour.
Knowing that a win could have taken them into the next round, Aachen coach Dieter Hecking stuck to his attacking 4-3-3 lineup, whereas the visitors - who also would have progressed with a victory - took to the field in a slightly more defensive 4-4-2 formation.
Aachen started the match well and pushed hard for an early goal, but Blank, Meijer and Sergio Pinto all saw their efforts either go wide or be turned away in the opening five minutes of the match. After that Zenit slowly came to grips with the game and managed to keep Aachen at bay. Nonetheless it took the Russian side 23 minutes to create their first real chance, Daniel Chirita's header sailing wide.
Meijer on the mark
Only two minutes later Aachen took the lead. Meijer cleverly slipped into space in the heart of the Zenit defence, chested down a Pinto cross, and fired a shot beyond goalkeeper Viacheslav Malafeev. However, despite being the better side, Aachen gifted the visitors an equaliser seven minutes before half-time. Moses Sichone brought Aleksandr Kerzhakov down in the penalty area and Radimov calmly converted the resulting spot-kick.
The home team continued to push hard a second goal, but it was Zenit who struck next, the visitors scoring with their first chance after the break as Gorshkov rose to meet a Radimov cross and headed into the net. The home team refused to give up and were rewarded for their spirit with Blank's equalising penalty, leaving their hopes of progress in their own hands.
It was not all good news for Aachen though, as they had Pinto sent off for two bookable offences in stoppage time and the forward will now miss the crucial trip to AEK Athens FC on Matchday 5, a game Aachen must win in order to qualify for the next round. Zenit have played all four group games and now face a nervous wait; the Russian outfit must hope AEK, who cannot qualify, take points off their German opponents.