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Zenit hit Liverpool with double whammy

FC Zenit St Petersburg 2-0 Liverpool FC
The Russian title holders will take a healthy lead to Anfield after scoring quickfire second-half goals through the impressive Hulk and Sergei Semak.

Hulk put Zenit ahead with an unstoppable strike
Hulk put Zenit ahead with an unstoppable strike ©AFP/Getty Images

FC Zenit St Petersburg scored two goals in four second-half minutes to earn a significant advantage against Liverpool FC in their UEFA Europa League round of 32 first leg in Russia.

UEFA Cup winners in 2008, Zenit conjured 69th and 72nd-minute goals through Hulk and Sergei Semak to start their 2013 campaign on a high. The double whammy came at a time when the hosts were struggling to match their first-half showing – but leaves the English club with much to do at Anfield next Thursday.

Zenit, refugees from the UEFA Champions League, forced early saves from Pepe Reina through Aleksandr Kerzhakov and Hulk. In response, Liverpool danger man Luis Suárez, whose late free-kick might have reduced arrears, bobbled a shot beyond Vyacheslav Malafeev but wide.

Suárez was presented with an even better chance by Nicolas Lombaerts' careless pass, yet his seemingly clear run on goal was complicated by a bumpy pitch and ended with ball and man being escorted out by Lombaerts.

If Hulk's penalty-area incursion was well read by Jamie Carragher, the same player bounced a shot against Reina's near post. By the half-hour mark, Luciano Spalletti's reigning Russian champions were asking questions of Liverpool with their fluid, intricate raids from midfield.

After Joe Allen's cross caused havoc at the other end, Raheem Sterling pulled the ball back for Suárez, whose flick flew centimetres wide. Brendan Rodgers' Group A winners nearly scored soon after half-time too when Glen Johnson's marauding run culminated in an attempt parried by Malafeev.

Suárez drifted another strike wide as Liverpool showed no signs of a hangover from Monday's Premier League home defeat by West Bromwich Albion FC. However, just when Zenit were beginning to toil in their first competitive outing of the year, Hulk picked up possession in midfield, surged upfield and powered a 20-metre shot past Reina.

Incredibly, one became two within three minutes. Aleksandr Anyukov's centre somehow evaded the visiting back line, enabling unmarked Sergei Semak to crash in a second at the far post.