Alves confident that weakened Zenit can beat Benfica
Russian champions Zenit St Petersburg will be missing key players for their Champions League last 16 first leg clash with Portuguese giants Benfica on Wednesday but defender Bruno Alves is confident they can overcome those blows.
Zenit will be without Portuguese international midfielder Miguel Danny, who is out for at least six months with ruptured knee cruciate ligaments, first choice goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeyev, who has a leg injury, and Italian defender Domenico Criscito, who has a stomach infection.
However Alves said that having already got the better of Benfica's domestic title rivals Porto in the group stage they can make light of their personnel losses.
"Benfica are a strong team," said the 30-year-old 47-times capped central defender, who played for Porto for nine years till 2010.
"However, I think they fit us perfectly as opponents. I believe Zenit will qualify for the next round.
"We already beat 3-0 Porto in the group stage. Porto are Portuguese champions and they are now stronger than Benfica. I hope we can achieve our target of advancing into the next round."
The Russian champions will also have to cope without having played any competitive football for weeks as their league season is in its winter break.
They have been restricted to winning the Dubai Cup in January, and then set up a training camp in Florence, Italy, where they played Italian Serie A side Cesena in a friendly.
Meanwhile, 32-time Portuguese champions Benfica come into the match boosted by a 4-1 thumping of Nacional in their league match at the weekend which sees them top the table, five points ahead of defending champions Porto.
Benfica - who came through along with Basel at the expense of English champions Manchester United in the group stage - will look to Paraguayan international striker Oscar Cardozo to provide their attacking menace.
They will have to contend with typically cold temperatures with weather forecasts predicting minus 11 degrees celsius (12 degrees fahrenheit) on Wednesday.
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