UEFA Cup Update: Zenit and Fiorentina hoping for home comfort

FC Zenit St. Petersburg will look to reach their first major European final as they take on FC Bayern München at home next week. They now hold an all important away goal from the first leg in Germany played on Thursday. Zenit are the only side left in the UEFA Cup never to have won a European trophy. The closest they have come since making their debut to European Cup competition as Zenit Leningrad in the 1981/82 UEFA Cup, was when they reached the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup in 2005/06 – losing to eventual winners Sevilla FC 5-2 on aggregate. Zenit have had the longest journey to the last four of all the semi-finalists, having entered the competition in the second qualifying round. After ousting FC ViOn Zlaté Moravce and Standard Liege, Zenit came third in Group A, then beat Villarreal CF, Olympique Marseille and Bayer Leverkusen to advance to this stage.

Any hopes Bayern had of a smooth passage to the UEFA Cup final disappeared as Zenit took home a 1-1 draw from Germany. The home side led through Franck Ribery’s 18th-minute goal (he stayed alert and followed up his own poorly placed penalty kick) but their dependance on suspended striker Luca Toni quickly became evident. Neither of the available Bayern strikers, Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose, nor midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, had their shooting boots on and they wasted numerous chances to kill off the match. As happens so many times when you fail to kill off a team they rise up and grab something from the match and when Lucio deflected a cross from Viktor Fayzulin past Bayern goalkeeper Oliver Kahn, Zenit had a shock equaliser and a vital away goal. Zenit were given a breath of new life and began to pressure the Bayern goal. More importantly, they quieted the sell-out crowd of 66,000 at the Allianz Arena.

Bayern pressed hard in the final quarter of an hour but could not produce a winning goal. Their best chance came late after some fabulous work on the flank by Ribery, the ball was slid into the middle for Lucio. He looked to atone for his earlier miscalculation but his powerful drive was parried over the crossbar by Zenit keeper Vyacheslav Malafeev.

While Luca Toni will return for the return leg in Russia, Miroslav Klose must undergo surgery after breaking his nose in three places during Thursday’s draw. The 29-year-old German international battled on to the end of the game after being injured in a tackle a few minutes from time, but has now been ruled out of the Bundesliga game at home to VfB Stuttgart on Sunday. He is also likely to miss the second leg match next Thursday. Bayern have other worries, with goalkeeper Oliver Kahn replaced midway through the second half against Zenit with a pinched nerve in his back, while defender Philipp Lahm is struggling with a groin muscle problem.

Zenit have their own selection problems as bookings in Munich mean playmaker Andrei Arshavin, defender Fernando Ricksen and midfielder Radek Širl are suspended for the second leg.

Little to talk about in the other semi-final as a depleted Rangers squad were content to scrape out a scoreless draw against Fiorentina. There were few clear scoring chances created in this cagey affair, although Rangers, missing some key players through injury and suspension, should feel satisfied that they denied Fiorentina an away goal at Ibrox.

The visitors dominated possession for long periods but struggled to create clear-cut chances. They can feel good about the way they controlled the tempo and moved the ball smartly but they will also be disappointed to come away empty-handed. They will now turn their thinking to Rangers strong road record in the UEFA Cup this season. Rangers have managed to score away from home in Lyon and Stuttgart and also at Lisbon and Panathinaikos. Fiorentina must win to progress while Rangers can again play for a draw in Florence.

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