Zenit – Liverpool aftermath: Not much St. Petersburg love for Suarez

A week may have already passed since last week’s Europa League drama at Anfield, but there has been no let up in the controversy that has followed the game. Whether it be Liverpool’s dramatic comeback or the antics of Luis Suarez, it was a game that so far, has been impossible to forget. While Zenit can look forward to a round of 16 tie against Swiss side Basel, Liverpool are left with bitter regrets after coming so close to pulling off a remarkable comeback against the Russian champions.

But it hasn’t just been the football that has proven to be the talking point. After the final whistle, many Zenit fans have called for Liverpool star Suarez to be banned from football until he can learn to play the game properly, after Suarez was spotted on camera stamping on the back of defender Tomas Hubocan, and earlier, deliberately hacking down Nicolas Lombaerts.  Ultimately Zenit had the last laugh with progressing, but you can’t ignore the fact Liverpool came so close to cheating their way into the last 16 ahead of the Russians.

When the draw for the last 32 was made in December last year, it was straight away singled out as one of the ties to watch out for, two games that would capture the attention of not just Europe, but the whole of the footballing world. And not just traditional football fans decided to take a look, in my case even my whole family took to the TV to see how a club steeped in such tradition as Liverpool would cope against a Zenit side which has gained European pedigree only in the last few years.

And both games didn’t disappoint in the slightest. Not just the second leg at Anfield had all the thrills and spills of a typical old fashioned cup tie, the game in Saint Petersburg was no less enthralling. End to end football was the order of the day, and the controversial Suarez himself could of helped himself to a Russian hat trick. But instead it was Zenit’s Hulk who stole the show, unleashing a blockbuster of a shot to open the scoring on 69 minutes, and that was followed quickly by veteran Sergey Semak capitalising on some stilted defending to slot home.

That goal eventually ended up to probably be the killer goal in the tie, but it could have been so different. Liverpool created no less chances than their hosts, albeit mostly down to Zenit’s slack defending, but how the English outfit didn’t get at least one away goal still puzzles many two weeks after the game.

While the first game lacked in controversy, that was all about to be made up for in the second leg in Liverpool. Before the game Liverpool’s living legend and captain Steven Gerrard had publicly made a call for the Merseyside faithful to be even louder than usual given the daunting task facing the hosts, and they certainly paid attention to him. Anfield may always be a cauldron of noise even on the smallest of occasions, this was just something else. The incessant deafening shouts of the Kop were heard from the first minute all the way to the last, and almost just on voices alone did Liverpool turn over their Russian counterparts.

And yet for Zenit the evening started so well. Hulk capitalised on a loose back pass to finish calmly past goalkeeper Pepe Reina, and with that, the tie looked done and dusted. It proved to be anything but. Luis Suarez smashed home a free kick just 10 minutes later, and moments before half time Joe Allen squeezed the ball in to bring the hosts within two of progressing.

Just 15 minutes into the second half it was 3-1, a stunning Suarez free kick bring Liverpool within an inch of adding Zenit to their long list of comeback victims. But it wasn’t to be with Zenit holding out for the remaining half an hour to just about go through to the last 16, and a collective sigh of relief was felt all the way from Saint Petersburg. The real talking though had only just started.

Liverpool’s number 7 and Kop hero Luiz Suarez has always been in the thick of it. From that unforgettable deliberate handball against Ghana in the World Cup quarter final of 2010 to racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra, he has never shied away from being in the spotlight.

And the game at Anfield encapsulated his career in just 90 minutes. In scoring two fantastic free kicks, in particular his second goal in the second half, he showed the whole world, just how much talent he has. On his day he is one of the most dangerous forwards on the globe and for 180 minutes he tormented the Zenit defence throughout, with the Russians in the end only just surviving.

To go with his remarkable and special talent though, he possesses the unwanted quality, of letting himself down horribly.

While on Russian soil he may not have done anything that appeared untoward, the game in England proved to be the complete opposite. His pure hunger and desire to win was obvious and that is only to be admired, but he was up to his old tricks again. Tripping up any Zenit player when he could, he then went a step further. In the lead up to Liverpool’s second goal, he hacked down the Belgian Lombaerts, an incident which forced Lombaerts off the pitch. And then came the most talked about moment, right at the end of the game.

With frustration rife amongst the Liverpool players, Suarez took it upon himself to rake his right foot on Tomas Hubocan’s back, an incident which was caught right on camera for the whole world to see. Somehow the officials missed the incident, and even more surprisingly, club officials at Zenit decided to not even follow up the incident with UEFA.

The infamous stamping incident.

The infamous stamping incident.

That hasn’t stopped Zenit fans venting their anger though, and it’s up for debate, whether such a player holds the right to be on the football field. No one doubts the talent that the Uruguayan star possesses, it’s on show just about every week for everyone to see. But such ‘tactics’ that he uses to try and win games illegally, shouldn’t be allowed to continue any more. UEFA themselves cannot follow up this most recent incident however as the referee for the night Björn Kuipers didn’t file the incident in his match report, but surely it can’t be too long before someone somewhere clamps down on such dirty tactics.

In any case, the only ones smiling come the final whistle were Zenit. The Russians survived a severe storm at Anfield and their reward is what should be a slightly less traumatic tie against Basel, and Zenit’s tag as one of the favourites for the Europa League trophy has surely only been enhanced after somehow surviving in one the loudest stadiums in Europe.

Even more pleasing however, is to see the back of Suarez for at least another European season.

 

Written by Shaun Nicolaides

Follow Shaun on Twitter @zenitfan93

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Tottenham vs Maribor: Defoe the star for Spurs yet again

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After two defeats in a row at home and just one victory in all competitions in the last month, Tottenham Hotspur hosted a Maribor side that also found themselves in somewhat of a rough patch; with a 100% record throughout September, the Slovenian side had only picked up two wins since the end of the month before tonight, with one of those – a slim victory, it must be added – coming in the Slovenian Cup against second-tier side NK Zavrč.

Both out of form and both fighting for a place in the last thirty-two of this year’s Europa League, victory at White Hart Lane certainly was essential for both sides.

After showing their clear frustration towards André Villas-Boas for replacing Jermain Defoe with Emanuel Adebayor early into the second half against Wigan last weekend, the young Portuguese manager seemingly granted the wishes of the ever faithful by starting the two strikers together for the first time competitively since the start of his reign. Tonight also marked Adebayor’s first start of the season and Villas-Boas’ first time opting to go with a simple 4-4-2 formation since his arrival at White Hart Lane.

After much speculation about its success before kickoff, the partnership of Adebayor and Defoe seemed to work wonderfully from the start, Spurs dominating both in possession and chances early on.

Their hard work and attacking force was rewarded after twenty-two minutes when Gareth Bale broke down the left wing and beat Maribor right-back Martin Milec – as he did so often during the evening – before whipping in a perfectly-weighted low cross for Defoe to side foot with skill past goalkeeper Jasmin Handanović.

The hosts continued to dominate for the rest of the first half until, moments before the half-time break, a poorly chosen pass back from youngster Kyle Naughton left Hugo Lloris under pressure from Maribor striker Robert Berić, the young Slovenian striker throwing his body in front of Lloris’ attempted clearance and guiding the ball into the back of the net to make it 1-1.

Despite their costly mistake, Spurs started the second half with the same drive and intensity as they did in the first, Defoe grabbing his second of the game just four minutes in when Tom Carroll – another youngster thrust, and rightly so, into an important game by Villas-Boas – played an impressive ball through the Maribor defence, Defoe converting coolly and clinically as he has done so many times before.

Maribor tried to initiate a comeback but the Spurs back line held strong and Adebayor, this evening completing his first full ninety minutes in a Spurs shirt for the first time since the final game of Harry Redknapp’s reign last season at home to Fulham, had the perfect chance to put the home side 3-1 ahead not long after but the Togolese striker sent his Bale-assisted half-volley wide of the post.

Luckily for Spurs, Bale, easily the best player of the night alongside Defoe, was on hand to seal the win for the North Londoners when he connected with Defoe yet again, the Welshman breaking down the left wing that he so often rules like his own personal kingdom before firing in another low cross for Defoe to calmly tuck away to grab his hat-trick and the win for Spurs, as well as lifting him to second place in Tottenham’s European all-time scoring charts.

On the day that England boss Roy Hodgson announced his squad for the upcoming friendly against Sweden and didn’t include Defoe, tonight’s performance sure was the perfect way for the thirty-year-old to showcase just why England still need him so desperately.

Spurs’ win sees them climb to second place in Group J, two points behind leaders Lazio – who they travel to Rome to play in two weeks time – and now two points ahead of Maribor. Unbeaten in the Europa League so far but with only one victory out of four games, André Villas-Boas’ side will be hoping that tonight’s win will give them the momentum to pick up the four points needed to reach the knockout stage that they so desperately require.

If Villas-Boas sticks to tonight’s system that worked so well and his team delivers what he knows they’re capable of there’s certainly no doubt that they can achieve just that.

 

Written by Ben Cullimore

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Anzhi vs Liverpool: Cole’s birthday doesn’t bring much joy for the Reds

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Liverpool suffered a shock 1-0 loss to Russian outfit Anzhi Makhachkala as Lacina Traore spurred his team to victory at the Lokomotiv Stadium. Traore’s impressive individual finish came in stoppage time at the end of the first half.

Liverpool have lost just three of their last 23 Europa League matches. The goal was just enough to see Hiddink’s men through and Liverpool see their Europa League progression hanging in the balance.

The Reds fielded a weakened side and had a number of key players rested as they look forward to Sunday’s mouth watering fixture with Chelsea, but manager Brendan Rodgers will be disappointed with his side’s lack of product in the final third. For security reasons, the match was scheduled at Dynamo Stadium in Moscow – 1,000 miles away from their main home ground.

In last month’s corresponding fixture, Anzhi lost to a superb long range effort from Stewart Downing. Brad Jones was in the Liverpool goal again this week and was called into action early on, easily taming Rasim Tagirbekov’s effort. The Liverpool keeper was called into action a few times, quickly off his line to deal with a lose ball and collecting  aerial balls.

Anzhi had a few decent opportunities,  winning free kicks in potentially dangerous positions and Samuel Eto’o's effort was well saved by Jones. However, in the 46th minute the deadlock was broken as Traore picked up the ball from 35 yards, flicked it over the head of Coates and charged to the edge of the penalty area, lifting the ball over the advancing keeper and rolling into an empty net.

After a poor first half, where Traore’s goal was undoubtedly the highlight of the game, Liverpool needed to get back on their feet. A double substitution saw attackers Dani Pacheco and Suso enter the game, as Liverpool injected pace and agility into a very slow-paced match.

Full back Flanagan was booked for a challenge on former Chelsea player Yuri Zhirkov. Anzhi continued to get the better of the Reds, and should have doubled their lead when Tagirbekov’s beautifully weighted ball picked out the 6ft 8 Traore, who failed to capitalize, heading the ball straight into the hands of Jones.

Joe Cole, who turns 31 today was close in grabbing an equalizer for Rodgers. A seemingly harmless ball was fumbled by the Makhachkala keeper, but he recovered well to save Cole’s follow up effort.

After a relatively poor game, the referee brought the game to a close.

As things stand, Anzhi replace Liverpool at the top with seven points. Liverpool sit in second place, level on points with Swiss side Young Boys, who they face next at Anfield.

 

Written by Farhan Daw

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