Zenit St. Petersburg got off to a rough start in the UEFA Champions League, but did well to get to this point. They were drawn in a group with APOEL Nicosia, Shakhtar Donetsk and FC Porto, where they were either second or third favorites to advance. APOEL, supposedly the worst team in the group, was the first to qualify. Zenit got a draw against Porto on the final day, good enough to sneak them through.
Things went a little smoother for Benfica. With FC Basel taking points from Manchester United on two occasions, they not only advanced from a group with the Red Devils, but won it. In 26 games, between Portuguese Liga and Champions League play, Benfica is undefeated.
This tie would have been thought of as very evenly matched if Zenit had a full squad to call upon, but some of their best players are unavailable. Left back Domenico Criscito and playmaker Danny are both out, and they're joined on the injury list by forward Danko Lazovic, who would have been a sure starter in Danny's absence, as well as striker Alexander Bukharov, an important player off the bench. Midfielder Roman Shirokov is a doubt.
With all of Danny, Lazovic and Bukharov out, youngster Maksim Kanunnikov could play a big role. Zenit are a fairly deep team, but most sides would have trouble dealing with their current injury list. Kanunnikov has performed well for the Russian U-21s and played extensively for Tom Tomsk on loan, but this will be a serious step up in competition.
Meanwhile, Benfica have almost a full team at their disposal, and the depth of their team is such that it's not easy to predict what kind of side they will be fielding. In both Champions League and the league, Benfica has switched between a narrow 4-4-2 diamond and a 4-2-3-1 formation. With Javi Garcia out, Nemanja Matic and Axel Witsel will partner each other in the double pivot. Maxi Pereira was out for Benfica's last league match, but is expected to return for this game.
Zenit St. Petersburg vs. Benfica
Game Date/Time: Wednesday, February 15, 12:00 p.m. ET, 9:00 p.m. local
Venue: Petrovsky Stadium, St. Petersburg, Russia
TV: FSC (USA - English), FOX Deportes (USA - Spanish), Sportsnet World (Canada), Sky Sports 2 (UK)
Zenit St. Petersburg (4-3-3): Vyacheslav Malafeev; Aleksandar Lukovic, Nicolas Lombaerts, Bruno Alves, Aleksandr Anyukov; Igor Denisov, Sergei Semak, Konstantin Zyryanov; Viktor Faizulin, Aleksandr Kerzhakov, Maksim Kanunnikov
Benfica (4-2-3-1): Artur Moraes; Emerson Conceicao, Ezequiel Garay, Luisao, Maxi Pereira; Axel Witsel, Nemanja Matic; Nolito, Pablo Aimar, Rodrigo; Oscar Cardozo