ST. PETERSBURG, October 24 (RIA Novosti)
Alexander Kerzhakov's second-half penalty gave Zenit St. Petersburg a 1-0 win over Anderlecht in the Champions League on Wednesday to kickstart the Russians' campaign in the competition.
The barely deserved victory on a rain-soaked night in St. Petersburg brings Zenit their first points of the campaign after two opening defeats to group rivals AC Milan and Malaga, who meet later in Spain later.
"We need to keep winning," Zenit coach Luciano Spalletti said. "It's great we got three points today, we need to keep working, keep moving forward to achieve our aims."
"The team I saw on the pitch today was in decent shape, we've seen growth in the last few games."
For now in Group C, it takes Zenit to within a point of second-placed Malaga and three of leaders Milan. Anderlecht drop to fourth.
Kerzhakov sent Anderlecht goalkeeper Silvio Proto the wrong way after right-back Alexander Anyukov was fouled in the penalty area on 71 minutes. It was the 29-year-old forward's 200th career goal.
Zenit lost their opening two matches 3-0 to Malaga and 3-2 at home to Milan.
It was a long-awaited Champions League win in St. Petersburg, where expectations are high after the team reached the knockout stages last season. But the manner of it will do little to convince supporters that Spalletti's side have emerged from a rut of bad form.
Kerzhakov teamed up with Hulk, who had a frustrating night, to direct an early shot just around the post early on.
Anderlecht's Brazilian midfielder Kanu then came perilously close with a ferocious drive from distance inside 10 minutes.
Milan Jovanovic came even close moments later, sending a slide-rule shot just past the post after a one-two with Dennis Praet.
Zenit survived the early pressure to carve out another chance of their own with Hulk blasting a low free kick narrowly wide.
Anderlecht winger Guillaume Gillet then elected to square the ball when clean through on 28 minutes, sinking to his knees when he found a Zenit defender instead.
The visitors had a strong penalty appeal turned down right after the break as Jovanovic appeared to be blocked in the box.
The ever-dangerous Kanu rose unchallenged in the box on the hour mark but glanced Lucas Bigila's free kick too lightly, allowing Zenit goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev to punch clear.
Substitute Vladimir Bystrov found rare space on the edge of the Anderlecht area soon after but poked a lackluster effort over the crossbar.
The hosts got their goal moments later when Anyukov, looking to latch onto Roman Shirokov's quick free kick, was pulled down by Jovanovic.
The Serbian striker nearly made amends immediately, firing a left-footed volley inches over Malafeev's crossbar.
Anderlecht striker Tom De Sutter rolled a late effort past the post and Zenit saw out time for a hard-fought win.
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