Fri, Nov 23, 2012 - Page 18 News List

UEFA Champions League: Malaga hold Zenit to top group

CONSOLATION PRIZE:While Malaga progressed, a battle with RSC Anderlecht for a Europa League berth is all Zenit have left to play for when they visit AC Milan on Dec. 4

Reuters, ST PETERSBURG, Russia

Zenit St Petersburg’s Axel Witsel, second left, controls the ball in front of Malaga’s Jeremy Toulalan, left, in their UEFA Champions League Group C match in St Petersburg, Russia, on Wednesday.

Photo: AFP

Zenit St Petersburg came back from two goals down to salvage a 2-2 draw against Group C winners Malaga in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday, but their hopes of reaching the round-of-16 are over.

The Russian champions, beaten 3-0 by already-qualified Malaga in their group opener two months ago, conceded two goals in the space of two minutes early in the game to find themselves deep in trouble. Diego Buonanotte opened the scoring from close range in the eighth minute, before Seba took advantage of an errant pass by Zenit goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeyev to fire into an empty net a minute later.

Portugal winger Danny pulled one back for the home side four minutes after the restart as the Russians put the visitors under siege in the second half.

Alexander Kerzhakov wasted a great chance shortly after Danny scored when he hit the side-netting from a tight angle after rounding the Malaga goalkeeper.

Substitute Viktor Faizulin finally struck an 86th-minute equalizer, but the Spanish side held on for a point to seal top spot in the group in their first Champions League campaign.

“We got the point we needed and the squad responded in the way we wanted,” Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini told Spanish TV. “I am very pleased with the players, who had a chance to show what they can do against a great team like Zenit, who have players of great quality. I am very pleased to have topped the group and to have been able, more or less, to give some players a rest ahead of our La Liga match [at home to Valencia] on Saturday. We played a very good first half, but their early goal in the second lifted their spirits. We had a few chances to get a third goal, but we couldn’t manage it.”

Zenit, who had substitute Vladimir Bystrov sent off for dissent after the final whistle, were eliminated after AC Milan beat RSC Anderlecht 3-1 away in the other group game to go through.

A battle with the Belgians for third spot and a Europa League berth is all Zenit have left to play for when they travel to Milan on Dec. 4.

“It’s very hard to come back when you are two goals down after just 10 minutes, but we tried, we did our best, we missed many chances in the first half. We scored twice after the break and could have added a third, but just ran out of time,” Danny told Russian television station NTV Plus.

Zenit’s preparation for the Malaga game had been hampered by turmoil surrounding their league match at Dynamo Moscow, which was abandoned on Saturday after the Dynamo goalkeeper suffered an eye injury from a firecracker thrown by visiting fans.

Luciano Spalletti’s team could be handed a 3-0 defeat and a hefty fine by the Russian Football Association.

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