It’s been a perfect day for Russia in the Europa League as Zenit topped Liverpool 2-0 in Saint Petersburg, while Rubin Kazan outplayed cup holders, Atletico Madrid, with the same score on the road.
Zenit St. Petersburg 2-0 Liverpool
The reigning Russian champions took on the Reds at Petrovsky Stadium as both sides battled it out with a hard pitch. No wonder the hosts did better in getting used to tussocks and slippery grass.
The first-leg defeat came despite under-pressure manager Brendan Rodgers' pick of a full-strength side. Zenit's €40 million signing Hulk broke the deadlock on 69 minutes with a sublime solo dribble capped with a long-range strike right into the top corner, which made a passive onlooker of Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina.
Two minutes later, veteran Zenit midfielder Sergey Semak doubled his team’s lead, tapping in unmarked at the far post from Alexander Anyukov's cross as two of Zenit's old guard teamed up.
Liverpool’s star forward Luis Suarez wasted a series of good chances to score in the first half and the start of the second, leaving his side in a difficult position heading into the return leg, to be played next week.
“Of course, it’s a good result, but let’s not forget that we play the next game at Anfield,” Zenit’s coach, Luciano Spalletti, is cited as saying by Sportbox.ru. “And Anfield is like [Zenit’s] Petrovsky stadium – when you come there you see that the passionate support of the fans turns the home players into real beasts. It’ll be hard for us, but you’ve seen that we’re in good shape. I hope that we’ll be able to show same quality football next week.”
The winner over two legs will face either Spain's Levante or Greek Olympiacos in the last 16.
Anzhi Makhachkala 3-1 Hannover 96
Anzhi found themselves one goal down after a goal by former Zenit midfielder Szabolcs Huszti, but the Cameroonian star quickly leveled things on the pitch tapping home a cross from Brazilian midfielder William, Anzhi's recent €35 million signing from Shakhtar Dontesk, who was making his debut.
Guus Hiddink’s charges put their noses in front early into the second half after Yury Zhirkov’s cross was turned into a goal by Odil Ahmedov with the help of a slight deflection.
A few minutes later, Eto'o missed his chance to steal the show, with a lazy penalty saved one-handed by Ron-Robert Zieler.
The Cameroonian made amends five minutes later feeding Mbark Boussoufa with a nicely weighted through pass, which the latter easily converted into goal.
The game was played at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, as Anzhi’s home ground in the Russian Dagestani town of Makhachkala had been banned for UEFA competitions over security concerns.
Atletico Madrid 0-2 Rubin Kazan
Rubin had a great start away at defending Europa League champions Atletico Madrid, taking the lead after just five minutes of play.
The Spanish side’s keeper, Sergio Asenjo, couldn’t get hold of the ball after Salomon Rondon’s effort and Gokdeniz Karadeniz was first on the rebound, 0-1.
Itwent well for the guests until the last minute of the opening half, which saw central back Roman Sharonov set off for the second yellow card.
After the restart, Atletico put the guests under serious pressure, but Rubin’s keeper, Sergey Ryzhikov, and his defenders stood firm, preventing Radamel Falcao and Co from scoring.
Even Madrid’s keeper went to look for the goal on the corner in stoppage time and was, eventually, punished for that move.
Kazan’s Spanish midfielder, Pablo Orbaiz, finished off his team’s speedy counterattack with a goal into an empty net, 0-2.