It’s always important to start well in any tournament. In a European cup one – even more. Zenit’s match with Anderlecht was a particularly hard task: the club had three starting players disqualified, and was coming off its disappointing loss to Auxerre in the Champions League.
But the fact that a task is hard to solve doesn’t mean it’s impossible. And for Luciano Spalletti in particular. Having lost three starters, Spalletti got three other starters back from injury: Igor Denisov, Nicolas Lombaerts, and Ivica Krizanac. In the end Zenit’s head coach put a fighting side on the pitch, with Anyukov, the team captain, being replaced by Konstantin Zyryanov, and Anyukov the fullback – by Sergey Semak. Along with Zenit’s three attacking starters, Miguel Danny, Alexander Kerzhakov, and Danko Lazovic, the starting eleven looked especially strong.
Anderlecht’s stadium was only a little more than half full by the start of the match. The Anderlecht faithful were angry with their own team for not qualifying for the Champions League, and decided not to show their usual support, which the club's fans are so famous for. The Zenit faithful, on the contrary, completely filled the lone sector given to them. On the match day morning about 700 blue-white-light blue fans were expected, but by 9:00 p.m. (match start time) there were almost three times as many. Furthermore, the goalie Andrey Zaitsev and the fullback Fernando Meira watched the match from the press box.
Zenit started the match aggressively, making several strong attacks, one of which ended with a foul on Lazovic thirty meters from the goal. The resulting free kick wasn’t well executed, but the first call on Proto's goal had been made. Zenit decided not to call any more: in the seventh minute Zyryanov and Semak played a give-and-go on the right flank, Sergey crossed into the penalty box, and Kerzhakov sent the ball flying into the back of the net off a header. A quick goal away from home is a sure way to solve the hardest tasks!
After twenty minutes Zenit almost scored again: Semak sent another fantastic pass through to Kerzhakov, who back-heeled to Danny, who back-heeled to the center of the penalty box, where Lazovic came rushing on. His shot went flying just centimeters outside the post.
Anderlecht tried to stop Zenit’s attacks with rough fouls – Shirokov, Zyryanov, and Lukovic all suffered one after another. But ten minutes of roughness ended with a worthy reply: having received another excellent pass, Kerzhakov went on a rendezvous with Proto again, this time firing a bullet off the post and into the net. But even this lesson didn’t teach the home-side: they got a third goal from Kerzhakov which will probably be in the highlight reels for weeks. Sasha curled the ball into the upper right corner from thirty yards out!
But that didn’t mean that the match was over at halftime. Anderlecht is a strong team from all point of view, and this was proven at the start of the second half. Yury Zhevnov more than broke a sweat in the first 15 minutes of the half. Zenit changed its tactics to counter-attacking. But in the 66th minute the home side got on the scoreboard after a header off a corner kick by Juhasz. The Zenit players picked up the pace, but was unlucky on their counter attacks, and decided to pack it in next to Zhevnov. That wasn’t a bad decision though, as Zenit saved two sure Anderlecht goals with their bodies.
In the 88th minute Zenit took control of the ball on the host’s side of the field, then Spalletti replaced Danny with Krizanac. Soon after that the Zenit faithful starting celebrating their team's first victory in this year's Europa League.