On a frigid night in St. Petersburg, it took nearly 80 minutes for someone to break the ice.
To the delight of the Zenit fans, it was Danny who broke the scoreless draw to take home three points for St. Petersburg. With the loss, Benfica is eliminated from contention to advance.
The opening half was very chippy, with nearly 30 fouls called as referee Nicola Rizzoli dished out six yellow cards. Andre Villa-Boas’ Zenit side looked slow early on as both teams failed to create many clear cut chances.
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Zenit’s closest chance came early in the match five minutes in, when Hulk whipped in a free kick that Benfica keeper Julio Cesar bobbled in the box. A mad scramble ensued, but Cesar was able to jump on the rebound before it found the back of the net.
Hulk continued to be the driving force for Zenit in the second half, as they pressed more offensively but still failed to connect on their final ball. The strong Brazilian used his size and speed to beat the Benfica defense and his hard work paid off in the 79th minute, when he clipped a ball into the box where Zenit skipper Danny connected off the bounce to give St. Petersburg the win.
Benfica captain Luisao was sent off in stoppage after receiving his second yellow card right before the final whistle. With the win, Bayer Leverkusen advances from Group C as Zenit control their fate heading into the final matchday.
Zenit: Lodygin, Anyukov, Garay, Lombaerts (Neto 23′), Criscito, Garcia (Fayzulan 58′) , Witsel, Hulk, Ryazantsev (Shatov 65′), Danny, Rondon
Goal: Danny (79′)
Benfica: Cesar, Pereira, Luisao, Jardel, Almeida, Perez, Samaris, Talisca (Derley 70′), Salvio, Lima, Gaitan
Red Card: Luisao (91′)