Zenit v Benfica preview
Russians aim to halt visitors' 11-game winning run
Last Updated: February 15, 2012 11:01am
Zenit St Petersburg host Benfica in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League with the visitors boasting an 11-game winning streak.
Match facts and stats:
Zenit are the first Russian club from a city other than Moscow to reach the knockout stages of the Champions League. Benfica were one of only three unbeaten teams in the group stage alongside Barcelona and Real Madrid. Zenit have won two and drawn one against Portuguese opponents in the Champions League. None of the six knock-out stage matches involving Benfica in the Champions League have ever produced more than two goals.
The two sides meet in Russia on Wednesday for the first leg of the knock-out stage clash with top of the Portuguese league set to challenge Russian Premier League leaders Zenit in freezing conditions.
With the extended 18-month season in Russia, Zenit's last outing was in November with the winter break terminating play from December to March.
Meanwhile their opponents have been rampant in the Primeira Liga with 11 straight wins enabling them to create a five-point advantage over FC Porto at the head of the table.
Benfica are unbeaten in the league this campaign and continued to consolidate their record on Saturday as they eased past mid-table Nacional 4-1.
Despite being out of action for two months Zenit also top their domestic league with a two-point lead over CSKA Moscow having picked up 18 points from their last 10 outings.
The Russian giants will be without Portuguese midfielder Danny who has been ruled out for the rest of the season after sustaining a knee ligament injury.
Domenico Criscito, Alexsandr Bukharov and striker Darko Lazovic will also join Danny on the sidelines while goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev is expected to be fit after a calf strain flared up during a friendly on Sunday.
While his opposite number contends with a lengthy injury list, the only concern for Benfica boss Jorge Jesus is Javi Garcia who has been ruled out after picking up an injury in training on Friday.
Although temperatures are set to plummet to minus 15 degrees at the Petrovsky Stadium, Zenit's leading goalscorer Aleksandr Kerzhakov expects his side to overcome the conditions and rewrite the club's history books.
"We've probably had to play in weather like this more often than our opponent has but I don't think that that's an advantage for us," he told the club's official website.
"Such an event as the knockout stage of the Champions League is happening in our city for the first time.
"We have to play both for ourselves and for all the fans who are writing this history together with us as this is just as important for them as it is for us.
"We have to play for those who can't take part in the match and I think we can manage that. We have a lot of players who can replace the injured guys, and I think we'll do so."
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UEFA Champions League Group A
UEFA Champions League Group B
UEFA Champions League Group C
|1||Paris St Germain||5||13|
UEFA Champions League Group D
|4||FC Viktoria Plzen||5||0|
UEFA Champions League Group E
|4||FC Steaua Bucuresti||5||3|
UEFA Champions League Group F
UEFA Champions League Group G
|2||Zenit St. Petersburg||5||6|
UEFA Champions League Group H