Zenit St Petersburg must overcome the
absence of their most creative player, midfielder Danny, when
they face Benfica in a Champions League last-16, first leg tie
The Portugal international is out for eight months after
tearing knee ligaments in training last week.
"Danny is a very important player for us but a club like
Zenit should not depend on just one player," coach Luciano
Spalletti told Russian media.
"Other players must raise their game and help us overcome
this problem," added the Italian who last week committed his
long-term future to Zenit.
Spalletti has extended his contract with the big-spending
club, backed by Russian energy giant Gazprom, until 2015.
Zenit are also without Italy defender Domenico Criscito due
to food poisoning and have injury worries over goalkeeper
Vyacheslav Malafeyev, midfielder Roman Shirokov and striker
The experienced Malafeyev, who is nursing a calf strain, has
kept a clean sheet in the last three Champions League outings
including a 0-0 draw at Porto in their final Group G match which
secured Zenit a place in the knockout round for the first time.
If Malafeyev does not recover in time, Spalletti is likely
to bring in Belarus international Yuri Zhevnov who has yet to
play in the competition.
With temperatures dipping below -15 Celcius in St Petersburg
over the past week, officials said they would make a decision on
the match shortly before kick-off.
"Should we play in such freezing cold? I don't think so. The
ball feels like a rock, you could easily break a leg," said
If the game goes ahead Zenit must hope their notoriously
hostile fans are on their best behaviour following crowd trouble
at their last Champions League home game against APOEL Nicosia
European football's ruling body UEFA fined the Russians 30,000
euros ($39,600) and warned of a heavier penalty if it happened
Benfica are brimming with confidence. They finished top of
Group C, helping to knock out Manchester United, and are
undefeated at the top of their domestic league, five points
Silky playmaker Pablo Aimar has been the main creative
influence and he extended his contract last week until June
Benfica coach Jorge Jesus relies on a stable defence and is
spoilt for choice in midfield and up front with a host of
options including Argentine Nicolas Gaitan, Brazil's Bruno Cesar
and Spaniard Nolito.
Argentine Javier Saviola is also among the contenders to
start in attack alongside Paraguay striker Oscar Cardozo.
Zenit St Petersburg: 16-Vyacheslav Malafeyev or 30-Yuri
Zhevnov; 2-Alexander Anyukov, 3-Bruno Alves, 6-Nicolas
Lombaerts, 14-Tomas Hubocan; 15-Roman Shirokov, 20-Viktor
Faizulin, 18-Konstantin Zyryanov, 27-Igor Denisov; 8-Danko
Lazovic or 34-Vladimir Bystrov, 11-Alexander Kerzhakov.
Benfica: 1-Artur; 14-Maxi Pereira, 4-Luisao, 24-Ezequiel
Garay, 3-Emerson; 21-Nemanja Matic, 28-Axel Witsel, 20-Nicolas
Gaitan; 10-Pablo Aimar, 19-Rodrigo, 7-Oscar Cardozo.
Referee: Jonas Eriksson (Sweden).
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