Tuesday 26 August 2014
UEFA Champions League – Play-off Second Leg
Zenit St. Petersburg 3-0 Standard Liège (4-0 on aggregate)
Salomón Rondón had some doubters after last week’s first-leg but he certainly went some way to enhancing his reputation on the biggest club stage of them all as he headed home a Domenico Criscito cross that the goalkeeper flapped at, diverting the ball straight towards the Venezuelan. 2-0 up with an away goal and the home side dominating, the tie appeared to be a formality but at the end of the first half, Viktor Fayzulin provided some interest to the neutral by getting needlessly sent off with his second yellow. Consequently, Rondón was sacrificed, with the veteran Ukrainian captain Anatoliy Tymoshchuk coming on to play a more defensive role and frustrate Belgian attempts to get back into the game. However, despite the man-disadvantage Zenit arguably played better football after the break – teams improving after their token Venezuelan was substituted was a recurring theme this week – with Hulk making it two from the penalty spot and then rounding off the goals just before the hour as he powered through some hapless defenders and side-footed home. Liège, who will be very disappointed with their meek response after the break, at least managed to get on level terms players-wise when Senegalese midfielder Ricardo Faty was red-carded in the last minute with his side’s last noteworthy contribution to their brief campaign.
Zenit St. Petersburg thus qualified for the group stage of the Champions League for the fourth consecutive year and on Wednesday were drawn in Group C alongside Benfica, Bayer Leverkusen and Monaco. This is precisely the sort of draw that every fan of each side initially thinks is easy, yet things could certainly go any way possible and culminate in December sackings and January departures for those who fail to qualify for the knock-out stage.