Zenit outgun misfiring Liverpool
PARIS (AFP) – Liverpool were left to regret a string of missed chances as Russian champions Zenit St Petersburg completed a convincing 2-0 victory in their Europa League last-32, first leg match on Thursday.
Two goals in three minutes midway through the second half turned the tide in Zenit’s favour after both sides had squandered a hatful of opportunities on a badly churned-up pitch in Russia’s former Imperial capital.
That makes the home leg at Anfield an uphill struggle, but disappointed Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers tried to put a brave face on the defeat.
“I thought we looked solid and a threat going forward and could have been in the lead at half-time,” he said.
“But we gave away two poor goals tonight. We ended up losing the game when we should have won it.”
Big-money Brazilian signing Hulk put the Russians ahead in the 69th minute with a blistering shot from the edge of the area which just clipped Martin Skrtel to wrong-foot Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina.
Then on 72 minutes, Sergei Semak turned up the heat on Liverpool when he ghosted in behind Skrtel and Glenn Johson to arrive unmarked on the left to clinically dispatch Aleksandr Anyukov’s cross from the right past Reina.
For Liverpool, Luis Suarez was the chief culprit and could have a hat-trick in the first half alone but for some profligate finishing.
But his worst miss came early in the second half as a good collective move orchestrated by Steven Gerrard ended with Stewart Downing teeing up Suarez in front of goal but he curled his shot casually wide.
Racist taunts from some of Zenit’s more vociferous fans, which Liverpool officials had feared after recent incidents at the club, failed to materialise.
Also in Russia, Anzhi Makhachkala beat Germany’s Hannover 3-1, despite falling behind to Szabolcs Huszti’s 22nd minute strike.
Samuel Eto’o put them back on terms, the former Barcelona and Inter Milan striker tapping in a pass from Willian, and Odil Ahmedov put them ahead just after the break before Moroccan midfielder Mbark Boussoufa sealed it in the 64th minute.
In the Czech Republic, Chelsea substitute Oscar wasted no time getting his name on the scoresheet, grabbing the only goal of a largely lacklustre game in the 82nd minute against Sparta Prague, just 45 seconds of coming off the bench.
Oscar collected a ball from Belgian midfielder Eden Hazard and fired home into the bottom corner of the net. Napoli’s players had to face the wrath of the club’s passionate fans at the end of a comprehensive 3-0 drubbing at home to Viktoria Plzen.
Once Vladimir Darida had put the Czech side ahead, Napoli were always playing catch-up and were exposed when Frantisek Rajtoral doubled the lead in the 79th minute and it only got worse as they went in search of a consolation goal and Stanislav Teci made it 3-0 a minute from time.
In Amsterdam, Ajax outplayed Steaua Bucharest of Romania 2-0 with goals from Belgian defender Toby Alderweireld (28) and promising right back Ricardo van Rhijn (49), while Benfica grabbed victory away to Bayer Levekrusen in Germany, with Oscar Cardozo scoring the only goal of the game on the hour.
In Valencia, Levante overwhelmed Olympiakos of Greece 3-0. Pedro Rios set the ball rolling as early as the ninth minute and a Jose Barkero penalty five minutes before the break and an Obafemi Martins strike in the 56th minute finished off the Greeks.
French side Bordeaux came away from the Ukraine with a valuable 1-1 draw against Dynamo Kiev with Ludovic Obraniak’s 23rd minute equaliser cancelling out Nigerian international, Lukman Haruna’s opener three minutes earlier.