Zenit St. Petersburg Vs. Benfica, 2012 Champions League: Odd Match Ends 3-2

Zenit St. Petersburg saw off Benfica 3-2 after a fascinating match at the Petrovski Stadium. The Portuguese side had only lost once this season - to Maritimo in the Taca de Portugal - and Zenit have been badly hit by injuries recently, so going into the game there didn't seem to be much hope that the hosts would make too much of a fight of things. However, they were actually the better side throughout, and were probably unlucky to have conceded twice.

Benfica didn't start at all brightly but managed to score with their first attack, with stand-in goalkeeper Yuri Zhevnov spilling a free kick from Oscar Cardozo right into the path of Maxi Pereira to give the visitors a lead against the run of play. It didn't last long - Roman Shirokov guided a beautiful volley past Artur and into the far corner just seven minutes later, and Zenit would claim a 2-1 lead in the second half with a goal that deserves to be shown on highlight reels for years to come.

Things didn't look particularly promising when the ball came to striker Alexander Kerzhakov near the corner flag, but he met it was a lovely backheel flick that dropped straight to Vladimir Bistrov. He launched a first-time cross into the Benfica box, where substitute Sergei Semak wasn't in great position, but finished beautifully anyway with another backheel, guiding the ball into the net with Artur helpless.

Following Zenit's second, play got a bit chippy and it looked as though the match would end 2-1. Benfica were frustrated with the way things were going and Pablo Aimar, who came on as a substitute following Rodrigo's injury, was probably the most vexed of all after incurring a booking that will see him ruled out of the second leg. His crime appeared to be not committing handball, so one can understand his confusion at referee Jonas Eriksson's decision.

Eriksson wasn't having a great day, but it was nowhere near as calamitous as Yuri Zhevnov's. With just three minutes to go and the end in sight, the goalkeeper made a compete hash of a shot from Nicolas Gaitan. The ball ended up loose in front of him, which was bad enough in a situation where Benfica players were lurking all round, but Zhevnov's attempted recovery compounded the error - he pushed the ball straight to Oscar Cardozo, who was only too delighted to make it 2-2.

It looked as though Benfica's amazing unbeaten record would continue, but then they too were undone by a catastrophic error. Maxi Pereira, who had score the first goal, inexplicably attempted to clear a lofted ball into the box with his wrong foot. Instead of getting the ball away, the fullback instead ended up passing the ball straight to Shirokov, who was only too happy to round Artur and restore the hosts' lead. Within the span of two minutes, Benfica had levelled and then conceded.

Injury time failed to live up to the drama of the last few minutes of normal time, and the match ended 3-2 to Zenit. It's an interesting scoreline and one that might not be enough at the Estadio da Luz - Benfica do have two away goals, so a 1-0 or 2-1 win for the Portuguese will see them through in Lisbon. If not by the two mistakes from Zhevnov, Zenit could be home and try. Instead, they've just set up a fascinating match in three weeks' time.

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