A battle in Sparta

Luciano Spalletti`s players held their first Greek practice in the outskirts of Athens on Tuesday: the footballers worked on their ball skills and held a scrimmage.

Zenit players got a short break after their long flight to Athens on Monday, and went to their first practice in Athens on Tuesday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. Or more precisely, they went outside the city, more than an hour`s drive from the center. Road signs announcing “Sparta” popped up on the side of the road from time to time on the way to the practice. Zenit practiced at AEK`s new training facility.

After the traditional warm-up, Zenit started playing at ball control in squares, and then started the most interesting part of the practice – the tactical part. Spalletti divided the team into two groups, offering the players to play defense and to attack in turn. The drill turned out to be quite attractive: a lot of the runs made by the footballers, who were clearly getting pleasure from ball work on an excellent field, were finished with excellent shots into the corners. Of course, there were some funny episodes as well: Tomáš Hubočan sent one ball into the nearest olive grove, and Bruno Alves sent another ball with the Europa League logo on it flying up to the builders working on the roof of AEK`s practice facility.

The most emotional part of the practice came in the ten-on-ten scrimmage. Roman Shirokov hit the first goal from 25 meters out right into the upper corner for the team in jerseys, then Dmitry Borodin, playing striker, instead of his usual goalkeeper position, doubled the team`s lead. The score could have gotten out of hand, but in the end everything turned upside down: even though Vyacheslav Malafeev stopped a penalty kick taken by Victor Fayzulin, the team without jerseys won another penalty kick, and this time Szabolcs Huszti scored. And then a minute later Huszti tied the score with a wicked shot into the upper corner. The scrimmage then had a classic finish: after coming back from two down, the team without jerseys won on a last-minute goal from Igor Denisov.

Wednesday`s practice will take place in Olympic Stadium in Athens, and will be the last practice of the year for Spalletti`s side.