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Zenit secure Europa spot with win over Milan
Published : 04 Dec 2012 22:16:51
A 35th minute strike from Danny secured a 1-0 away win over seven-time champions AC Milan and a Europa League spot for Russia side Zenit St Petersburg here on Tuesday.
With qualification secured two weeks ago, Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri could afford to rest a number of regulars including top scorer Stephan El Shaarawy, midfielder Riccardo Montolivo and defender Philippe Mexes.
However Allegri's plan almost backfired, with fans leaving the stadium early as the dominant hosts tried but failed to find a leveller to Danny's superb first-half strike.
Zenit had been condemned to perform as well as Anderlecht did away to Malaga to hold on to third place in Group C and a Europa League last 32 spot.
It prompted coach Luciano Spalletti to send out his strongest possible side, with Hulk spearheading the attack flanked by Danny and Sergei Semak and Bruno Alves marshalling the defence in front of the experienced Vyacheslav Malafeev.
Milan's hopes for an early opener were snuffed out by the referee who waved away what appeared to be a valid penalty claim after Alves felled Giampaolo Pazzini from behind in the fourth minute.
Zenit's first chance came moments later but after a nice one-two with Semak, Hulk's looping header flew well over Christian Abbiati's goal.
Milan were dominating and finding space on both wings but were given a taste of Hulk's threat when he muscled his way into the area, only for defender Cristian Zapata to take the ball from the Brazilian.
At the other end Milan came close with Pazzini and then Zapata, who failed to get good contact after the ball was headed into his path from a corner.
When Zenit broke the deadlock, Milan's makeshift defence was caught on the hoof, Danny picking up a backpass from his own through ball to beat an outstretched Abbiati with a well placed shot at the keeper's far post.
Milan responded immediately but a promising build-up left Bojan sending his ambitious overhead kick well wide of goal, while Flamini did better with a rasping drive which forced a good block from Malafeev.
Milan almost levelled minutes after the restart when Urby Emanuelson got his foot to Kevin Prince Boateng's cross from the right after a superb counter-attack orchestrated by defender Francesco Acerbi, only for Malafeev to block superbly.
Pazzini then flashed a header wide from Emanuelson's cross, and when Bojan was allowed space to run down on goal he sent his 20-metre drive wayward.
Allegri replaced left-back Djamel Mesbah with Robinho just after the hour mark, but although the Brazilian linked well with Bojan and Boateng the hosts struggled to carve out the opening.
Robinho's through ball allowed Bojan to run through with the goal at his mercy on 74 minutes but as the Spaniard wound up to shoot he was dispossessed.
With 10 minutes remaining El Shaarawy replaced Flamini, although it was Robinho who came closest to beating Malafeev when he curled a sublime shot just wide of Malafeev's far post.
El Shaarawy followed up moments later with a shot on the turn which edged just wide of the upright.
Zenit had enjoyed little time in Milan's area in the second half but almost embarrassed the hosts with a three-on-two scenario which only the alert Abbiati thwarted with a superb block from substitute Maksim Kanunnikov's shot in the closing minutes.