Benfica sorely need
victory over Zenit St Petersburg in their Champions League
last-16 second leg at Estadio da Luz on Tuesday to end a poor
run of form that started three weeks ago in the first leg in
Before their 3-2 defeat in chilly St Petersburg, the Lisbon
club were five points clear of Porto at the top of the
Portuguese Premier League and full of confidence. Now, they are
second in the league, trail Porto by three points and long for a
win to knock out Zenit.
Since Roman Shirokov's last-gasp goal gave the Russian
Champions the upper hand, Benfica have failed to win all their
league matches, recording one draw and two losses. The most
devastating defeat was at home to arch rivals Porto last Friday.
Benfica lost the Classico 3-2, let down by an unusually
fragile back four and by goalkeeper Artur who, highly praised for
his steady performances this season, was caught in no-man's land
as Porto scored the 87th-minute winner.
"We must move on because we are in a reasonable situation to
eliminate Zenit. Let's see if the team can recover from the
defeat because the players feel this one was undeserved,"
Benfica coach Jorge Jesus told Portuguese television.
"The return of trust requires victories. In the last four
matches we drew one and lost three so we go into this Champions
League match in a situation which is not easy, but this is our
An added concern for Jesus is the likely absence of
Argentine centre-back Ezequiel Garay due to a knee injury.
Still, the Eagles will take encouragement from the
performance of striker Oscar Cardozo, the club's top scorer in
the league and Champions League.
Despite his unstylish approach to the game, the no-nonsense,
lanky Paraguayan scored a brace against Porto and applied his
famous left foot and sharp sense of opportunity to good effect.
Zenit have welcomed back influential goalkeeper Vyacheslav
Malafeyev, who has fully recovered from a calf injury, and
defender Domenico Criscito, who missed the first leg in St
Petersburg because of food poisoning.
Both the experienced Malafeyev, who turned 33 on Sunday, and
Italy international Criscito played in Saturday's
top-of-the-table Russian league match against second-placed CSKA
Moscow, which ended in a 2-2 draw to maintain Zenit's six-point
lead over their rivals.
Zenit coach Luciano Spalletti has lashed out at CSKA for
turning down his request to play their match a day earlier so
that Zenit could better prepare for Tuesday's clash with
"Two years ago CSKA were in a similar situation and we had
no problem with playing our match earlier because we all felt
like being Russians and wanted to help a Russian club to do well
in European competition," Spalletti told local media.
"Now certain people feel like they are less Russians than we
were then," the Italian added. "I just don't understand that."
Zenit's Portugal midfielder Danny is out after having
surgery to repair torn knee ligaments last month, while forward
Andrei Arshavin, who was loaned by Arsenal last month, is
ineligible for the Champions League having played for the London
club in the competition earlier in the season.
Benfica: 1-Artur Moraes; 14-Maxi Pereira, 4-Luisao,
27-Miguel Vitor, 3-Emerson; 28-Axel Witsel, 6-Javi Garcia,
20-Nicolas Gaitan, 9-Nolito; 10-Pablo Aimar, 7-Oscar Cardozo.
Zenit St Petersburg: 16-Vyacheslav Malafeyev; 2-Alexander
Anyukov, 4-Domenico Criscito, 6-Nicolas Lombaerts, 14-Tomas
Hubocan; 15-Roman Shirokov, 20-Viktor Faizulin, 18-Konstantin
Zyryanov, 27-Igor Denisov, 34-Vladimir Bystrov; 11-Alexander
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