Benfica 1-0 Zenit St. Petersburg: Jonas strikes at the death to give hosts a first leg lead

The Portugese champions hold a slender advantage before their trip to Russia.

Benfica 1-0 Zenit St. Petersburg: Jonas strikes at the death to give hosts a first leg lead
Jonas heads home the winner for Benfica (photo: The Guardian)
Benfica
1 0
Zenit St Petersburg
Benfica: Julio César; Magalhães de Almeida, Nilsson-Lindelof Jardel, Pereira Dos Santos; Samaris, Luz Sanches, Afonso Fernandez (Carcela-González, min.71), Gonçalves Oliveira; Gaitán, Mitroglou (Jimenez Rodriguez, min.63).
Zenit St Petersburg: Lodygin; Anyukov, Garay, Lombaerts, Criscito; Witsel, Javi García, Shatov (Zhirkovat, min.81); Hulk, Danny (da Silveira Júnior, min.87), Dzyuba (Kokorin, min.74)
SCORE: 1-0, min.90, Gonçalves Oliveira.
REFEREE: Gianluca Rocchi (ITA). Cautioned Almeida (min.16), Witsel (min.32), Jardel (min. 35), Pizzi (min.43), Javi García (min.59), Mitroglou (min.63), Criscito (min.67), Jonas (min.90) Sent off Criscito (min.90)
INCIDENTS: Champions League round of 16 first leg between Benfica and Zenit St Petersburg. The match was played at Estadio De Luz in front of 48,615 spectators.

Zenit manager Andre Villas-Boas believed that his side 'would not suffer from a lack of match practice' as they went into this key fixture after a 10 week winter break in their domestic league. The Portuguese manager was almost proved right with his prediction on home soil until an injury-time winner from Jonas stole an advantage for Benfica before the second leg.

The home side were the only likely winners

Zenit clearly set their stall out for a goalless draw, as they happily conceded the majority of possession to the Portugese champions. The Russians barely tested Julio César as Benfica pressed to turn their dominance into an advantage. The hosts were patient and had to wait until the second half until they really looked like scoring and grabbed an important goal in the final minute.

In a first half lacking quality, Benfica's Pizzi had the first opportunity of the match when Andre Almeida found him on the edge of the box but his shot was straight at Lodygin on 19 minutes. The home side continued to dominate possession but could not find a breakthrough beyond a stubborn Zenit defence, rarely threatening after Pizzi's opening. Brazilian Hulk had the best opportunity for the visitors as he curled a free-kick wide of Julio César's goal.

Criscito gets sent off conceding the foul that led to Benfica's goal (photo: EPA)
Criscito gets sent off conceding the foul that led to Benfica's goal (photo: EPA)

Benfica raised their game in the second half

Both sides improved after the break, as Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel had two efforts comfortably saved early in the second half, before Benfica grew into the game. Nicolas Gaitán had a handful of opportunities, but none were better than his 69th minute effort that was saved by Lodygin, although he should have scored. Defender Jardel went close just minutes later when he placed his shot wide from a corner, as the host continued to progress through the gears.

Eliseu and Carcela-González both went close as Zenit began to ride their luck, before a lack of discipline from Italian Domenico Criscito earned him a second yellow card and Benfica took full advantage from the resulting free-kick. Nicolas Gaitán whipped in the set piece straight onto Jonas' head who made no mistake in given Benfica a deserved advantage. Andreas Samaris could have doubled the lead in the dying seconds but his effort was kept out by Lodygin. 

Both teams will have to make changes for the second leg

Criscito's red card has earned him a suspension for the second leg next month and he will be joined on the sidelines by teammate Javi García, whilst Benfica will be without the duo of Jardel and Almeida. Villas-Boas has also hinted at changes suggesting 'we will have to attack more and create more chances'.