Champions League: Zenit 1 – 1 Atlético
A late error from Courtois ruins Atleti's 100% record in Europe
Atletico Madrid slipped to a 1-1 draw with FC Zenit in their penultimate UEFA Champions League group game on Tuesday evening.
A second-half Adrian goal was cancelled out by a late error from the normally-reliable Thibaut Courtois.
Due to Atleti’s 100% record so far in the competition, they had already qualified for the next round. Before kick-off, Zenit occupied second place in the group with five points, one point above third placed Porto.
Simeone made changes to the side that crushed Getafe seven nil on the weekend with Insua, Guilavogui and Adrian all making starts in the Petrovsky Stadium. Alderweireld and Raul Garcia were both in the first eleven again due to their impressive performances. Zenit were without key first team players Danny and Ansaldi who were both sidelined due to injury.
Atletico held off Zenit for the first forty five minutes as the Russian team were desperately pushing for the opening goal. With no out and out striker, Raul Garcia led the line for Atleti but the in form midfielder did little to harm Zenit’s goal.
Hulk was the standout player amongst the two teams during the 1st half as Insua found his physical and skilful presence too much to handle down the left wing. Courtois did well to parry a signature long range strike from the Brasilian in the 13th minute. Five minutes later Hulk cut the defence in half with a superb pass but Kerzhakov couldn’t finish the move off.
Atleti applied some pressure of their own at times with the best chance of the first half for the Madrid club falling to Cristian Rodriguez in the 28th minute, who played a one-two with Raul Garcia but couldn’t beat the Zenit keeper, Yuri Lodygin, who charged out to prevent the deadlock being broken.
Atleti seemed happy to absorb the intensifying pressure that was being applied by Zenit and in the process all but surrendered the midfield. Despite this, Atletico came close to a goal before the break as Koke forced Lodygin into a diving save as he volleyed a cushioned header from Garcia.
No substitutes were made by either team at the interval. Despite another rocket shot from Hulk, that Courtois managed to get behind, Atleti were more positive and made good use of the space left in behind Zenit as they pressed on for a goal. And it was the visitors who struck first.
Insua was dispossessed down the left wing and Hulk steamed in at the Atletico defence, after a barrage of shots Kerzhakov’s effort was finally collected by Courtois. Seconds later the ball found itself half way up the pitch being held up by Raul Garcia who managed to play Adrian in behind the Zenit defence and duly slotted past Lodykin to make it one nil to Atleti.
Immediately after the kick off Atletico regained possession and Raul Garcia attempted an audacious chip that had beaten the keeper but could only rattle the crossbar.
Atletico’s standard of football was raised as they enjoyed a larger spell of possession in comparison to the previous half. After hardly seeing any of the ball in the first half, Guilavogui became instrumental in marshalling the space just in front of the defence. His acute sense of positioning and numerous interceptions shed light on why he was brought to the club.
The Russian’s were only behind for 20 minutes. Zenit full back Smolnikov pounced on a Koke error and drove down the wing. With enough men back and only one teammate for the defender to aim for, there was not much for the defence to worry about. A tame cross was met with an Alderweireld header that seemed destined to go out of play for a corner. This was not the case as the ball dipped and sneaked past Courtois, who made a poor attempt to tip it over the bar, which brought the game back to level terms.
In the 78th minute Oliver was introduced in replace of Cristian Rodriguez. The youngster made an immediate impact as on the 81st minute he caught the Zenit defence by surprise and played in Raul Garcia who couldn’t nudge the ball past the keeper. The last real chance of the game came in the 92nd minute as Atleti caught Zenit on the counter and after a succession of passes, the captain Gabi could only blaze the ball over the goal.
Despite only having 38% of the possession overall, Atleti never looked like a team that was leaving the Russian city empty handed. Atleti can feel hard done by as they would have claimed all 3 points had it not been for a fluke goal, but still unbeaten in Europe, and with qualification in the bag, Simeone’s men can prepare for Saturday’s trip to Elche with no major concerns.
by Luis Antonio Muscat
|Zenit St Petersburg||11||Atlético|
|Alderweireld (og) 74'||Adrian 53'|
|UEFA Champions League|
|26 November 2013|
|C Rodriguez (78')|
|Oliver Torres (78')|