Group C has become an interesting and fun set of clubs as we head in to the final two matchdays of the group stage. German side Bayer Leverkusen are out in front with nine points, but they have yet to secure qualification because their opponents later on Wednesday, AS Monaco, are only four points behind them. Right on Monaco's heels are the two teams facing off today, Russian power Zenit St. Petersburg and defending Portuguese champions Benfca.
These two sides are tied at four points apiece in the group, meaning that today's match has potentially huge implications as to the final standings of the group. Either side could vault their way up to the second qualification spot with a win today if Monaco fail to beat Leverkusen. In the reverse of this fixture, at Benfica in September, Zenit won 2-0; can they repeat that achievement, or can Benfica also play road spoiler?
Key player - Hulk (Zenit)
While Hulk has scored just once for Zenit in the Champions League this season, he's still been undeniably their best player this season. That means that the onus of carrying this match will likely fall to him, especially with key striker Aleksandr Kerzhakov in doubt to play. Tilting the tables in Hulk's favor is that Benfica's first-choice left back is out injured, meaning it will be more likely that the Brazilian forward will be able to run rampant from the right side. His combination of pace and power will be tough for Benfica to contain, and this could be a heck of a day for Hulk to have some fun on the pitch.
Key Matchup - Nicolas Gaitan vs. Axel Witsel
Benfica will have to put in a top-notch attacking performance to get something out of this match and keep their qualification hopes alive, and that means Nico Gaitan will have to pull the strings for his side like he's never pulled them before. It's going to be up to Witsel to keep him in check, and the Belgian midfielder could have his hands full trying to contain his Argentine counterpart. Witsel's got the work rate and skills to get the job done, but his form has been very inconsistent this season. If he plays well, though, he has the ability to not only keep Gaitan at bay, but also to cause Benfica problems in attack.
Zenit St. Petersburg injuries and suspensions
Out: None listed. In doubt: Aleksandr Kerzhakov (unspecified)
Benfica injuries and suspensions
Out: Eliseu (toe), Silvio (leg)
Neither team are particularly hard-hit by injury, though Benfica will miss left back Eliseu, who had started three of Benfica's Champions League matches prior to getting hurt. He'd been a steadying presence for a side that was heavily revamped over the summer, but the Portuguese side will do their best to get on without him.
Match Date/Time: Wednesday, 8:00 P.M. local, 12:00 P.M. ET
Venue: Stadion Petrovskij, St. Petersburg, Russia
TV: NTV (Russia), Sport TV1 (Portugal)
Online: Fox Soccer 2GO (U.S.), ESPN3 (U.S.), NTV+ Sport Online (Russia)