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Anyukov hopes Zenit have Benfica sussed

FC Zenit St Petersburg drew at FC Porto to earn a round of 16 place, and their captain Aleksandr Anyukov tells UEFA.com that result will stand them in good stead against SL Benfica.

Aleksandr Anyukov is quietly confident ahead of Zenit's first ever round of 16 tie
Aleksandr Anyukov is quietly confident ahead of Zenit's first ever round of 16 tie ©UEFA.com

A goalless draw at FC Porto earned FC Zenit St Petersburg a UEFA Champions League round of 16 berth at the Portuguese side's expense, and they go in search of another Liga scalp when they start their tie with SL Benfica this week.

Backs-to-the-wall defending and a series of crucial saves from Vyacheslav Malafeev were the keys to that decisive point in Portugal, and Zenit captain Aleksandr Anyukov said it had given the Russian champions a good measure of what lies ahead when they take on Benfica. "They are basically the same team as Porto, and they are going to play pretty much in the same way, I think," he told UEFA.com. "The players may be different but everything else is the same."

Jorge Jesus's Benfica lead the way in the Portuguese league, ahead of Porto, and knockout phase debutants Zenit have been eager to size them up. "They are equal to Porto. They play the same fast, offensive and highly skilful football and the players are of a similar standard. Both our teams will have chances, so we'll see what comes out of it," said defender Anyukov – who has been watching videos of the Eagles in action. "It's 50-50."

Benfica, of course, will have been poring over footage of Zenit too, particularly that last Porto game, and Anyukov hopes to have impressed them. That crucial result at the Estádio do Dragão underlined some less celebrated aspects of Zenit's game. "Teamwork and team defence," suggests the 29-year-old. "And Slava (Malafeev) must have saved us a number of times. A couple of times we were lucky, but I think it was fair. We deserved to be lucky."

Luck and endurance only get you so far though, and Anyukov is keen to underline that his side have maturity and tactical nous too. "We are not little boys. Everyone knows how to prepare for big games. The manager's role at this stage is minimal. Everyone knows their job," he said. "You don't have to 'prepare' anyone. Everyone is motivated. All you have to do is make sure everyone's physical condition is fine."

Just reaching the round of 16 represents a resounding achievement for Luciano Spalletti's Zenit. For striker Aleksandr Kerzhakov it is not a novel experience, he had got through the group stage with Sevilla FC in 2007/08, though he left the club before the tie against Fenerbahçe SK commenced. "I am happy that fans in St Petersburg will be able to see Champions League games in the spring, and watch us compete against the best teams in Europe and in the world," he said.

Anyukov agreed: "Every season in the Champions League is memorable and you want to play in it again every year. Qualifying from the group stage is a great success for all of us, of course; a great story for St Petersburg and for the club. Now we will try to go as far as we can."

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