Tag Archives: Russia

Venezuelan Abroad in Russia – Recap of Round 8



Saturday 20 September 2014

Russian Premier League

FK Rostov 0-5 Zenit St. Petersburg

Match Summary

A hapless defence enabled Zenit to ease to a comprehensive thrashing, with two of the goals coming from Rostov players at the wrong end and the other three from the feet of Salomón Rondón.

The Venezuelan forward needed to get back to scoring ways after a relative drought of five games (three for Zenit, two for the national side) without a goal and was always likely to find opportunities against opponents who have already been victims of 7-3 and 6-0 hidings.

The first goal came after 11 minutes as Danny’s corner was glanced on by Javi García and Rondón managed to gain some space to slide home the ball past Croatian World Cup goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa.

The second was a farce that could be featured on any Own Goals and Gaffes video (you can watch it here in isolation, should you so wish). Danny powered forward up the inside-left from the halfway line up to the edge of the area, where he passed centrally to Oleg Shatov and, with nobody tracking his run, received a rapidly dispatched through-ball to put him one-on-one with Pletikosa. The Croatian managed to get something on the Portuguese’s shot which slowed down the ball’s pace as it headed goalwards yet, despite having time on his side to make a clearance, South African defender Siyanda Xulu instead sliced the ball into the back of his own net. The onrushing Rondón could not help but emit a cheeky smile as with 37 minutes gone, it was 2-0 to the visitors and a familiar story was emerging for both the hosts and the visitors.

Just before the hour mark, Rondón’s second and Zenit’s third came, following good work by Viktor Fayzulin. Indeed, the Russian international ran up the left, passed a short ball to Domenico Criscito whose clever back-flick played him into space to put in a good ball from near the byline. Fayzulin’s cross was poorly dealt with by two defenders whose poor communication led to the ball falling kindly to Rondón who, from a central position 11 yards out, confidently side-footed the ball home with his left peg.

Five minutes later, Zenit’s creative captain Danny was substituted off, though it is unknown whether the injury he allegedly picked up is anything serious. Nevertheless, with Andrey Arshavin on in his place, the league-leaders continued their rout and benefited from another comical, if unfortunate, own goal after 71 minutes. This time Hulk, on the right near the corner flag, swung in a free-kick with his left foot that bounced in the centre before being headed back by Ezequiel Garay straight towards the head of defender Vitaliy Djakov. In the nano-seconds that he had to react to this incoming ball, he twisted his forehead slightly to his right, thus glancing the ball goalwards past the unsuspecting Pletikosa.

The final goal that completed Rondón’s hat-trick and the 5-0 pounding came just two minutes later, once again showcasing some swift attacking, amateurish tracking and clinical finishing. Shatov ran onto a cutting through-ball on the right, waltzing into the area before cutting back the ball into the area – leaving an outstretched defender stranded en-route – where the unmarked Venezuelan had time to compose himself and then hit a strong right-foot strike into the corner from 10 yards out.

Overall, Zenit made light work of very weak opposition, maintaining their 6-point lead at the top of the table and extending their winning streak to eight wins in eight matches which, if European games are included, comes to a phenomenal 12 consecutive wins. While it is starting to seem difficult to see where Zenit could possibly slip up, one may wish to restrain oneself with the superlatives until they are immersed in their Champions League games and then we will see what, if any, effect this has on their domestic campaign.

Venezuelan Abroad in the UEFA Champions League – 16 September 2014

UEFA Champions League 


Tuesday 16 September 2014

UEFA Champions League – Group C: Match Day 1

Benfica 0-2 Zenit St. Petersburg

For the line-ups, click here

Match Report

In what had been billed as a clash between two in-form sides, Zenit St. Petersburg pulled off a result that some casual observers certainly considered a surprise, taking the game to As Águias in a contest that was effectively over after little more than 20 minutes.

Many fans of this most prestigious of Portuguese clubs would have been less surprised by the outcome as it must have confirmed some of their worst fears regarding their status in the contemporary European hierarchy. Indeed, the Zenit line-up would have been very familiar to them as it featured three former players – Axel Witsel, Javi García and the summer departure Ezequiel Garay – who all left Benfica for bigger contracts, with two of them – Witsel and Garay – having headed directly to Russia. The visitors also fielded two prominent attacking threats in Hulk and Danny (who, owing to his past call-ups to the Portuguese national side, was certainly no stranger to the crowd), both former employees of fierce rivals Porto, a side who just over three years ago were also successfully managed by André Villas-Boas.

Thus, the home fans knew what they were up against from the oft and any lingering sense of foreboding was heightened no more than five minutes after the kick-off. Defensive gaps were easily exploited by Shatov who held off several challenges to slip through Hulk who ran into space just inside the area and made his left-footed curler around Artur look effortless. This subdued the half-full stadium and the atmosphere struggled to recover throughout the opening stages, with the Benfiquistas only really finding their voices to express their discontent with proceedings and to boo certain opponents. Hulk was the target of most of their ire, which was surely as much to do with his play as it was his Porto links as he was frequently on the ball looking, as he often does, like he was going to tear through the porous opposition back line every time he went forward.

Any hopes that they would get back into the match were dealt a severe blow in the 18th minute as again their defence was left standing with Danny latching onto Shatov’s through-ball before being blocked off by Artur who he was almost certainly going to round and score past. The referee had no option but to send off the goalkeeper, with the promising young Brazilian Talisca being sacrificed for the 36 year-old Paulo Lopes who took up his position being the sticks to make a very rare first-team appearance. While he will have been relieved to see the resulting free-kick from Hulk go narrowly wide due to a deflection, he still was not to have a touch before Zenit’s second goal. Indeed, the subsequent corner was floated in and headed goalwards by Witsel whose effort was over the line before Lopes could claw it out. A short pause of purgatory followed before the referee’s confirmation but when it came the Belgian opted to follow the contemporary trend of players looking sheepish and reluctant to celebrate a goal against former employers, which did not stop his team-mates mobbing him.

For the remaining 70 minutes, though Benfica did come back into the game, having sporadic spells of dominating possession and enough chances that, if listed, would give the impression that they could have been on level terms, the events of the first 20 minutes somewhat distorted the subsequent play. Indeed, Zenit could probably have also scored more goals but given their numerical advantages on the field and the scoreboard, did not have to play with the same intensity as they began with and thus sometimes took their collective foot off the pedal but did enough to run out victors.

Nevertheless, for the completists out there, Benfica’s two best chances came in the second half, firstly from a 59th-minute free-kick from the Argentine Enzo Pérez that was met by a powerful header from Luisão and forced Lodygin into a diving double-handed save as the ball headed for the top corner. An even better chance came just over five minutes later when a through-ball deflected off the Belgian defender Lombaerts into the path of Lima, who was in space and got away a quick shot that hit Lodygin’s legs and was subsequently cleared from the goalmouth.

Zenit had a few more opportunities but with the exception of a fearsome Hulk effort that came directly after the Lima effort, these can be discussed in the section below.

Venezuelan Perspective

Having been placed on the bench for Zenit’s last two league games, Salomón Rondón returned to the line-up but as an attacking threat could not compete with the physical prowess of Hulk nor the incisiveness and vision of both Shatov and Danny. He was a peripheral figure for the majority of his 75 minutes on the field, often awaiting crosses and through-balls that never came and which sometimes bypassed him altogether. Arguably, his most important contribution to the first half was blocking off a defender from sticking out a foot to intercept Shatov’s cutting through-ball that slid forwards to Danny for the red-card incident. Whether the defender would have managed to halt the ball’s path without the Caracas-born striker there is debatable, but if that is excluded then his most eye-catching moments in this half were a series of clashes with Maxi Pereira that culminated with the notoriously charming Uruguayan blocking him off with a combination of arm and elbow.

In the second half, Rondón was involved in two potential goal incidents, one of which was more an opportunity for Hulk but the second was very much his to bury, something he not only was unable to do but which cast a shadow over his exit from the field just a few minutes afterwards.

Hulk’s effort came on 61 minutes, when he received a patented piercing pass from Shatov and struck a left-footed shot from a narrow angle on the left that Lopes got a touch to as it bounced off the far post and almost back into the path of Rondón but a defender managed to hook it away before he could get to it.

As for Rondón’s gilt-edged opportunity, it came after 71 minutes with him getting on to a loose ball in midfield, passing short to Danny and running forward to receive a through-ball in the area, one-on-one with Lopes. However, he perhaps shaped his body just a little excessively as he was to watch his right-footed shot bend around not only the goalkeeper but also the far post, thus failing to finally kill off the game once and for all. When he was substituted shortly afterwards, his dejection and slumped demeanour were there for all to see.

Admittedly, too much can be made of incidents such as this as, despite what Youtube highlight reels may suggest, all of the greatest players in the world regularly miss opportunities that their inflated reputations and media advocates would have us believe that they would never fail to convert. However, after a blistering start to his Zenit career that began back in February, he has now not found the net in five games (three with Zenit, two with Venezuela) and he has had at least a few good chances to do so. While it is more than likely he will get back to scoring ways soon, he can never get too complacent with the likes of Kerzhakov and now even Arshavin waiting in the wings. Having transferred from Rubin Kazan for a considerable sum while approaching what will ideally be the peak years of his career, he is doubtless Zenit’s number one out-and-out striker. However, as he was not signed by Villas-Boas he can not feel quite so assured of a starting place as much as he would like, so certainly needs to get back to burying chances like the one in this match as often as possible.

Additional Match Trivia

Despite this being Europe’s premier competition, altogether there were actually 12 South Americans in the starting line-ups: 6 Brazilians (Benfica: Artur, Luisão, Jardel, Talisca & Lima; Zenit: Hulk), 4 Argentines (Benfica: Pérez, Gaitán & Salvio; Zenit: Garay), 1 Uruguayan (Benfica: Pereira) and, of course, 1 Venezuelan (Zenit: Rondón). Much as this website would also like to include Danny, though he was born in Venezuela this was to parents from Portugal, a nation he has represented over twenty times.

Remarkably, this was the first time in 51 home games in all competitive competitions that Benfica lost at home. The last team to defeat them at the Estádio da Luz was Barcelona in a 2-0 Champions League victory on 2 October 2012. Incidentally, in this game Benfica started with no Portuguese players and 10 South Americans, with the Serbian Nemanja Matić the odd one out. Read more about this game here.

Zenit St. Petersburg have now won their last 11 games in all competitions, with the only blight on their record coming in their first match of the season in the away leg of the Champions League qualifier against AEL Limassol of Cyprus, who achieved a 1-0 victory.

Lastly, Zenit St. Petersburg are now undefeated in their last five games against Portuguese opposition, with their last loss actually coming against Benfica on 6 March 2012 in a 2-0 defeat that knocked them out of the Round of 16 stage of the Champions League. This was another game in which the Portuguese side did not start with any of their countrymen, but they did play two midfielders who must have stood out to the Zenit hierarchy – Javi García and Axel Witsel. These two later recruitments may have been a consequence of a lesson learned by matches such as this, as on this occasion the Russians very much did show faith in their native players, fielding eight of them in contrast to a mere three this time around. Read more about their previous encounter here.

Venezuelan Abroad in Russia – Recap of the Weekend



Saturday 13 September 2014

Premier League 

Zenit St. Petersburg 3-2 Dynamo Moscow

Match Summary

Last season in May, this fixture was marred by a violent pitch invasion from the Zenit fans in the dying minutes as they struggled to come to terms with their side’s title challenge evaporating before their very eyes. Thankfully, this top-of-the-table encounter made headlines for all the right reasons as a rather entertaining, topsy-turvy game was decided in the dying moments of regulation time, with André Villas-Boas’s men departing with their 100 per cent record in tact and an extended lead of six points.

However, it was the visitors who took the lead after 18 minutes through an instinctive, elegant goal by Mathieu Valbuena who, upon receiving a short pass just inside the area, intuitively converted his boot into a 9-iron and in a blink of an eye chipped the ball over Yuriy Lodygin into the far corner.

Zenit’s reply came 10 minutes later when Domenico Criscito evaded a challenge on the left side of the area, cut inside and shoT a low effort with his right-foot that 40 year-old Armenian goalkeeper Roman Berezovsky (who enjoyed six years at Zenit, leaving a sobering 14 years ago) will feel he should have kept hold of. Instead, he parried it out and Douglas, a Brazil-born defender who has been called up to the Dutch squad by virtue of having played several years with FC Twente, did not have time to adjust his body, instead having to helplessly watch the ball rebound off his legs and into the net for an own goal.

The hosts then took the lead after 40 minutes when Hulk came forward to play Andrey Arshavin into space just inside the area and Russia’s star of Euro 2008 seized this rare starting opportunity by confidently striking home a powerful shot past the static Berezovsky.

The second-half was certainly not short of incidents, but the comparatively well-behaved fans had to wait until the 82nd minute to see another goal, though it would not have been greeted favourably by the majority of the 15,000 people in the Petrovsky Stadium. A free-kick was lofted in from the left by Valbuena and Congolese forward Christopher Samba rose high to power a header from close-range that Lodygin attempted to get a hand to but could only flick onto the underside of the crossbar, with the ball rebounding downwards and marginally over the line.

Though a draw may have been desirable for some neutrals, AVB’s side were to get the winner in the 89th minute following some nice interplay between Danny and Igor Smolnikov. The Russian passed to the erstwhile Portuguese international, then ran into the area from the right where he took advantage of some slack tracking to collect a through-ball and fire home through the arms of Berezovsky.

Venezuelan Perspective

As had been noted in the last update, Brazilian powerhouse Hulk – always Zenit’s most conspicuous player and usually for the right reasons – was reported to be injured for approximately six weeks, yet he made a surprisingly quick recovery just two weeks later in this match. His return rendered speculation – which may or may not have come from this column – on whether Salomón Rondón would step up to take over as Zenit’s leading forward threat meaningless and it was not the only unanticipated selection that diminished the role of the Venezuelan.

Indeed, Hulk’s reported condition opened up ruminations on whether Rondón and Kerzhakov could be accommodated into the same line-up, yet rather than play these two strikers in partnership, Villas-Boas did not even start with one of them, instead granting Andrey Arshavin his first start of the season. To do this in a hotly anticipated game against arguably his side’s biggest rivals for the title was difficult to comprehend. One possible explanation is that he wished Rondón to be rested ahead of the midweek Champions League game against Benfica, though as most of Zenit’s leading players – except possibly Shatov – were not afforded similar treatment, this seems unlikely. Perhaps more plausible is that Villas-Boas felt that, for all of Rondón’s goalscoring achievements, he has had a tendency of late to miss a considerable number of good chances and while Arshavin may not always deliver the goods he can display considerable ability from time to time. But to give him an opportunity to do so in this particular match? It is still a rather unexpected decision, though as he scored a goal, AVB will doubtlessly feel vindicated.

Rondón replaced Arshavin just after the hour mark but he must have had some doubts as to whether he would play in the Benfica game which was played earlier tonight and which will be discussed in the next update.

Venezuelans Abroad in Russia – Recap of the Past Week


Sunday 31 August 2014

Russian Premier League

Lokomotiv Moscow 0-1 Zenit St. Petersburg

Despite scoring in the midweek Champions League decider, Salomón Rondón was relegated to the bench with Aleksandr Kerzhakov taking his place in the line-up for the biggest game to be played in Russia over the weekend, as last season’s third-placed side hosted the runners-up. Overall, though Zenit had the better of the chances and deserved to edge the victory, it was often a tense game with seven yellow cards dished out and it was actually the home side who had the best chance of the first half when, with 23 minutes on the clock, experienced international Alexander Samedov floated in a free-kick that former Tottenham man Roman Pavlyuchenko ran onto, stretching his right foot out only to see the ball go agonisingly wide of the post. Conversely, Zenit’s best chances of the first half came from a powerful Witsel header that was acrobatically parried out and a Samedov lay-off to Hulk who shaped to curl in a pearler with his left from the right edge of the area but instead got his angles wrong and saw his effort go several yards over.

Nevertheless, into the second-half Zenit persevered and achieved the break-through on the hour as Venezuelan-born creative maestro Danny curled in a corner that was nodded back by the Belgian Lombaerts to Javi Garcia who endeared himself to the Zenit faithful with a clinical right-foot strike to record his first goal since arriving for £13 million from Manchester City. Lokomotiv attempted to rally but Zenit had the better of the chances, most notably from Rondón himself who came on as an 83rd minute substitute for Hulk and, in the third minute of stoppage-time, was set free in the area ten yards out one-on-one with the goalkeeper but sliced a left-footed shot into the side-netting. Although it is possible that he lost his footing, for a man with such an impressive scoring ratio (now 6 goals in 10 games in all competitions) it has to be said that so far this season he could have scored several more than he has done so had he put away some similarly gilt-edged opportunities. 

The final whistle sounded soon after to maintain the 100 per cent record of André Villas-Boas’s men who are now three points clear of Dynamo Moscow who they will next meet on 13 September in a re-run of a highly contentious match played in May which Dynamo won, effectively knocking Zenit out of the title race and which led to some rather unsavoury scenes. Given their start to the season, Zenit should feel confident going into this match but will be rocked by the news that their Brazilian powerhouse Hulk, arguably their player of the season so far, has recently suffered an injury and will reportedly be out for six weeks. A blow for the team, undoubtedly, but for Rondón, who may well find himself in a line-up that accommodates both him and Kerzhakov, this could be a rather liberating opportunity for him to stake a claim to be the team’s leading talisman. 

Venezuelans Abroad – 30 Aug 2014 Midweek Round-up (UEFA Champions League)

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.