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FC Basel 1893 were rewarded for their patience at St. Jakob-Park, biding their time to earn a notable victory against FC Zenit St Petersburg in a fascinating UEFA Europa League round of 16 tie.
The hosts were a danger thanks to their pace during a lively start and just as it seemed the opportunities were drying up on the night, Marcelo Díaz and Alexander Frei struck to open up a notable advantage ahead of the second leg in Russia, which Luís Neto will miss after his late red card.
Murat Yakin's team started at a high tempo, particularly Serey Die, whose slaloming run was only halted by Vyacheslav Malafeev's smothering save. Mohamed Salah was also impressive, going close with a full-blooded drive from 15 metres and then firing a volley narrowly off-target.
In Malafeev, Roman Shirokov and Igor Denisov, Zenit boasted three members of their 2008 UEFA Cup final starting lineup, and their experience showed in finding a pathway into the game. Diving in at the back post to meet a Nicolas Lombaerts glancing header, Shirokov came closest to registering an away goal before the interval, while Danny threatened at the start of the second half with an effort deflected behind.
As Zenit became more assured, Hulk's involvement in the game blossomed. From his delightfully deft touch, Shirokov was sent clear, but Yann Sommer in the Basel goal rushed out to quell the danger.
Then came the twist provided by Díaz seven minutes from time, the Chilean midfielder pouncing after Malafeev had spilled a shot from Salah. Luís Neto subsequently brought down the Egyptian in the penalty area in added time, seeing red and allowing Frei to double the advantage to leave the Russian champions with a sizeable task in the second leg.
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