Let me start this by saying that I expected Bayern to progress but not without a fight. My reasoning was that Zenit St Petersburg would be missing a number of key personnel including the suspended Andrei Arshavin, Radek Šírl and Fernando Ricksen, as well as Nicolas Lombaerts and Kim Dong Jin through injury. This left them with only two available defenders – Ivica Križanac and Aleksandr Anyukov. Their back four for yesterday’s match was rounded out by Roman Shirokov, a midfielder recently converted to the centre-half position, and 38-year-old midfielder Olexandr Gorshkov who was deployed as a makeshift left-back.
Well, as it turns out, Zenit turned in an amazing performance and thrashed Bayern 4-0 at home. Of course, Bayern may argue that the pitch played a part in the result as Zenit’s pitch has been in such bad condition since the start of the Russian season in March that league officials considered banning the stadium for domestic matches.
However, to blame the loss on the solely on the pitch conditions would be dishonest. Bayern had plenty of chances and simply did not make the most of them whereas Zenit did. Bayern could have had a lead within the opening 3 minutes but Miroslav Klose’s shot was cleared heroically by Shirokov as his keeper Vyacheslav Malafeev had be cleanly beaten. Just a minute or two later the Petrovsky Stadium erupted as Pavel Pogrebnyak delivered on his pre-match promise to take care of Zenit’s scoring by blasting a 25-metre free-kick through the wall and past Oliver Kahn. It was poor defending by Bayern as the wall did not remain compact. Ribery, for one, broke away and turned his body, which opened space for the shot to rocket through. Schweinsteiger also turned away rather than staying square to the shot.
It went from bad to worse for Bayern as it was 2-0 on 39 minutes as Alejandro Dominguez played in Konstantin Zyrianov, who shimmied past Martín Demichelis beautifully before steering the ball into the far corner. Lukas Podolski and Christian Lell came on for Zé Roberto and Marcell Jansen at half-time, a move which almost paid dividends when Podolski set up Luca Toni to force a reflex save from Malafeev. Bastian Schweinsteiger also tested the keeper with a strong shot.
Zenit continued their calm, assured play through the seond half adding another goal from Pogrebnyak and one from Victor Fayzulin to hand Bayern a loss that equals their heaviest previous defeat in European club competition (they’d previously suffered 4 goal losses to Ajax, Eintracht Frankfurt and FC Copenhagen).
Zenit will face Rangers in the final on the 14th of May in Manchester. Rangers advanced to the final after holding their nerve through a scoreless draw and then winning the penalty shootout 4-2. Fiorentina had 27 shots on goal in this game alone and will feel a bit hard done by but their finishing was simply not up to par in either of the matches. I don’t feel that Rangers played particularly well in either match but considering their injury/suspension problems they did what they had to in order to advance.
You could argue that with the match in the UK that Rangers might hold a slight “home” advantage. However, any team that beats Bayern 4-0 must be the favourites going into the final and I am certainly not going to bet against Zenit again anytime soon. It’ll be an interesting matchup of two experienced and well-respected managers in Walter Smith & Dick Advocaat.
One major disappointment for Zenit is that Pogrebnyak, booked for an innocuous looking aerial challenge with Lucio, will not feature in the final. Pogrebnyak is the tournament’s top scorer with 11 goals. Zenit manager Dick Advocaat defended his decision to not substitute Pogrebnyak, who is prone to picking up yellow cards, after he had scored the last goal in the 73rd minute. “I had to keep the strongest team on the pitch because you can never count Bayern out,” Advocaat said. “We all know what happened in their match against Getafe.”
As I’ve written about before, Pogrebnyak is a rising star and it will be interesting to see if he remains with Zenit over the summer over if one of Europe’s rich clubs like Manchester United come calling. I think he’d be a good fit for a club like United who lack an out-and-out centre forward.
After starting out in the Spartak Moscow system, Pogrebnyak’s career stalled for a couple of seasons before his breakthrough with FC Tom’ Tomsk in 2006 as he scored 13 goals in 26 matches and became one of the favorites of the local fans. In 51 official matches for Zenit, Pogrebnyak has scored 28 goals. In the Russian Championship he has scored 12 goals in 30 matches. Zenit signed him to a 3-year deal in 2006 so he’ll be looking for his next contract this summer and Zenit fans will hope the club can look up this goal-machine for a few more seasons. Zenit are backed by the seemingly limitless resources of Russian energy giant Gazprom and will make their Champions League debut in September so those may play a part in any decision Pogrebnyak makes about his future.