Zenit Retakes First Place
Published: April 16, 2014 (Issue # 1806)
A hat-trick from Brazilian forward Hulk and another goal from Venezuelan striker Jose Salomon Rondon guided Zenit St. Petersburg to a 4-1 victory over Krasnodar on Apr. 12. The win, their fourth in a row, gives Zenit a one-point lead at the top of the Russian Premier League with five games left to play.
Since replacing Italian manager Luciano Spalletti following a drastic drop in form, Portuguese manager Andre Villas-Boas has rescued Zenit’s season and instilled an attacking flair to the team’s play that had disappeared after a strong start to the season. In the four games Villas-Boas has managed, the team has scored 14 goals compared to scoring only six in the seven games before his hiring.
Hulk opened the scoring in the 21st minute when Krasnodar goalkeeper Andrei Sinitsyn failed to punch away the Brazilian’s swerving free kick. Krasnodar then drew level in the 52nd minute when a long ball allowed Brazilian midfielder Joaozinho to get behind Zenit’s defense and shoot past goalkeeper Juri Lodygin.
Hulk doubled his tally for the day in the 64th minute when a corner kick found him unmarked and his shot took a wicked deflection off of Krasnodar defender Vitaly Kaleshin and into the back of the net.
Rondon sealed the win in the 81st minute after tapping home the rebound from Portuguese midfielder Danny’s shot and Hulk added another, his third of the day, in stoppage time with a low strike past a helpless Sinitsyn.
“This was an important victory, a very important one,” Villas-Boas told Zenit’s English-language website after the game. “I liked how the players were able to get together and played well after giving up a goal. I think the team will continue in the same spirit, since it’s training well, and showing good football.”
Zenit now control their destiny in the league thanks to their win and former leaders Lokomotiv Moscow’s 0-0 draw with last-place Anzhi Makhachkala on Sunday. If Zenit win the rest of their games, they will be league champions for the third time in four years.
The St. Petersburg’s club game against Lokomotiv in Moscow on May 4 now looks as if it may be the title decider. Before then, Zenit must travel to Makhachkala to face Anzhi, a team fighting to avoid relegation after failing to win in its first 19 games of the season, and play Volga Nizhny Novgorod at home.
Following their match in Moscow, Zenit will play host to rivals Dinamo Moscow before traveling to Krasnodar to face Kuban Krasnodar to conclude their season on May 15.
In other action from around the league, Spartak Moscow solidified their hold on fifth place in the league thanks to a 1-0 victory over Kryliya Sovetov on Apr. 11.
On Apr. 12, Tom Tomsk and Amkar Perm played out a 0-0 draw while CSKA Moscow stayed in third after defeating Ural 1-0. Terek Grozny earned their biggest win of the season, beating Rostov-Na-Donu 3-0 in Chechnya.
Rubin Kazan’s poor season continued as Kuban Krasnodar scored twice to win 2-0 on Sunday and increase the gap between the teams to four points.
Dinamo Moscow hammered Volga Nizhny Novgorod on the road 5-0 with five second-half goals from four different players Monday evening.