Portuguese team Benfica returns home to the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon on March 6 to take on Zenit St Petersburg of Russia in the second leg of their European Champions League round-of-16 tie. The first leg was a thriller in a freezing cold Russia which saw Zenit score a late winner in a 3-2 victory. The winner of the tie will advance to the quarter-final round.
Benfica lost by a 3-2 score in their last league game as well as Porto beat them on Friday. Defender Ezequiel Garay was injured in that and it looks like he’s going to miss the match against Zenit. It’s believed that Miguel Vitor will take his place in the back four. Also, Pablo Aimar is suspended for a game and will be out of action and will likely be replaced by Rodrigo, who will play just behind scoring sensation Oscar Cardozo of Paraguay. However, Javi Garcia should be able to play in the midfield after returning for the game on the weekend.
Zenit strengthened their squad quite a bit recently when forward Andrei Arshavin was grabbed on loan from Arsenal of England on the last day of the recent Russian transfer window. However, he’s already played in the Champions League for Arsenal this season and isn’t eligible to suit up for Zenit. Goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev has returned from an injury and should start in goal. He played on the weekend and earned his club a draw against CSKA Moscow. It looks like Aleksandr Bukharov might miss the game though due to a hamstring strain injury and Portuguese playmaker Danny will miss the rest of the season because of a serious knee injury.
Falling behind after first legs of European competitions isn’t anything new to Benfica as they’ve done it 31 times before. They’ve managed to overcome their losses and advance to the next round just nine times out of those 31. If they’re going to stage a comeback they’ll be depending on Cardozo to lead the way. The big striker has 14 goals in the past 14 games.
Zenit hasn’t lost in their past 18 games in all competitions. Their last defeat came on the first day of the Champions League when APOEL beat them. Both teams will be celebrating milestones since the game will mark Benfica’s 50th in UEFA competitions and it will be Zenit’s 100th.
Benfica has three wins and two draws in their last five games while Zenit has two wins and three draws. Benfica’s very tough to beat at home and this should be as thrilling as the first leg. The two away goals may help the Portuguese club and they should be able to win this game by a goal seeing them advance to the next round.
William Hill has the odds of a Benfica victory at 4/6 with a St. Petersburg win at 9/2 and a 90-minute draw at 13/5.