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Bruno Alves reflected on a night of mixed emotions in Greece as he helped FC Zenit St Petersburg to a 3-0 win against AEK Athens FC, a result which eliminated his former club from the UEFA Europa League.
The 29-year-old was given a warm reception by the AEK fans who fondly remember the Portuguese defender from his spell with the Yellows in the 2005/06 season, and helped Zenit keep a clean sheet while Aleksandr Bukharov, Alessandro Rosina and Igor Denisov scored the goals that did the damage at the other end. That result ensured Zenit topped Group G by 11 points after six straight wins, while AEK were pipped to second on head-to-head record by RSC Anderlecht, who beat HNK Hajduk Split 2-0.
"I have a lot of respect for AEK and their fans because I spent a fantastic year here," Alves told UEFA.com. "
AEK supporters are the best and they gave me a very good reception. It is something I will not forget and a memory I will savour for the rest of my life. It was a special feeling to come here to play against AEK."
Zenit's clinical finishing ensured they ended the group stage with 18 goals, three per game, but despite the margin of victory at the OACA Spiros Louis Stadium, Alves admitted the match might have taken on a different complexion had Ismael Blanco not missed a first-half penalty for AEK with the scores still at 0-0.
"I don't think it was an easy game at all," said the towering centre-back. "AEK started well and they really tried everything. They were lacking a bit of luck though with the penalty miss. Things could have been different. We were then stronger in finishing our chances and that is the way football goes sometimes."
Zenit have proven pedigree in this competition having lifted the UEFA Cup in 2008 and Alves said that he and his team-mates expect to be pushing for more glory this time round when they begin their knockout campaign in the last 32 on 17 and 24 February. "We are a strong team; we have won all of our matches in the group phase and this tells its own story," he said. "We will work even harder and be even stronger in the next round. We want to try to go as far as we can."
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