Freezing St Petersburg awaits Benfica

Freezing St Petersburg awaits Benfica

Freezing St Petersburg awaits Benfica

Benfica will be relying on the scoring abilities of its Paraguayan forward Oscar Cardozo, who has three goals in the competition so far. AFP photo

Zenit St. Petersburg must overcome the absence of its most creative player, midfielder Danny, when it faces Benfica in a Champions League last-16, first leg tie tonight.

The Portugal international is out for eight months after tearing knee ligaments in training last week.
“Danny is a very important player for us but a club like Zenit should not depend on just one player,” coach Luciano Spalletti told Russian media. “Other players must raise their game and help us overcome this problem,” added the Italian who last week committed his long-term future to Zenit.

Spalletti has extended his contract with the big-spending club, backed by Russian energy giant Gazprom, until 2015.

Zenit is also without Italy defender Domenico Criscito due to food poisoning and have injury worries over goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeyev, midfielder Roman Shirokov and striker Danko Lazovic.

The experienced Malafeyev, who is nursing a calf strain, has kept a clean sheet in the last three Champions League outings including a 0-0 draw at Porto in the final Group G match which secured Zenit a place in the knockout round for the first time.

If Malafeyev does not recover in time, Spalletti is likely to bring in Belarus international Yuri Zhevnov who has yet to play in the competition.

With temperatures dipping below -15 Celcius in St Petersburg over the past week, officials said they would make a decision on the match shortly before kickoff.

“Should we play in such freezing cold? I don’t think so. The ball feels like a rock, you could easily break a leg,” said Shirokov.

If the game goes ahead Zenit must hope their notoriously hostile fans are on their best behavior following crowd trouble at their last Champions League home game against APOEL in November. UEFA fined the Russians 30,000 euros and warned of a heavier penalty if it happened again.