Champions League: Atlético 3 – 1 Zenit
A perfect return to Europe's finest cup competition for the Rojiblancos
Atlético celebrated their return to the Champions League with an emphatic victory over Russian vice-champions Zenit. Against an opposing team featuring five defenders and Hulk, the Rojiblancos managed to score three times and concede only once.
In the absence of Atlético’s top scorer, Miranda, Arda, and Léo Baptistão took care of their team’s goal production, while familiar face Hulk scored the opposition’s only goal.
Neither team could impose themselves on the game in the opening phase, with chances few and far between, as both sides gave away very little space in midfield.
The Colchoneros, without powerhouse Diego Costa, who was replaced by Adrián, played many short passing exchanges around the Zenit box, but were unable to create anything.
Opportunities only appeared in the form of long distance shots which either went wide — especially when Hulk attempted them — or, at the other end, were easily parried by the Zenit goalkeeper.
The game looked set to remain goalless going into half-time until, five minutes before the break, the unmarked Miranda headed in a corner-kick by Koke at the near-post.
A much deserved goal, the Brazilian’s opener rewarded the Rojiblancos for their positive approach against an opposition comfortable with sitting back.
But at the start of the second half, the tables were turned, as Atleti seemed content with their slim lead and allowed Zenit, who had substituted a midfielder for a defender, to pass around the ball.
The Russians came close to equalising when, on the hour mark, their forward Kerzhakov’s header forced Rojiblanco custodian Courtois to make a diving save.
And a little later, they succeeded. A successful Zenit break culminated in Hulk blasting an unstoppable effort into the top corner of the Belgian’s goal.
Zenit grew more confident, and the game seemed to be turning in their favour, with Kerzhakov hitting the bar with a free kick.
However, only minutes after the equaliser, Atlético restored their advantage, with the goal appearing yet again from a Koke set piece.
George Resurrection’s free-kick was parried away by Lodygin, but his defenders were unable to clear, allowing Arda to come in and score from close range.
Afterwards, Atlético took firm hold of proceedings and got a number of opportunities to increase their lead, with Lodygin having to spring in action to stop Villa’s free kick, as well as Godín heading over the bar.
In the closing stages, substitute Léo Baptistão set the final score, only a minute after replacing the injured Adrián.
He picked up a pass from Arda that seemed to be intended for Villa, which caught the Zenit defence off balance, allowing him to slot home Atleti’s third of the night.
The Russians almost got an undeserved second goal in extra time, but Courtois again produced some fine Thibauting to deny Ansaldi.
Their 3-1 victory sees Atlético move top of their group G, ahead of Porto who beat Austria Wien 0-1 away, courtesy of a Lucho González goal.
|Atlético||31||Zenit St Petersburg|
|Miranda 40'||Hulk 58'|
|Arda Turan 64'|
|UEFA Champions League|
|18 September 2013|
|Raul Garcia (86')|
|C Rodriguez (89')|