Jonas headed a stoppage-time winner as Benfica claimed a 1-0 advantage over Zenit in the first leg of their Champions league last-16 tie.
The Portuguese champions suffered a bitterly disappointing defeat to Porto last Friday and looked set to suffer further frustration against opponents coming into the match following the Russian Premier League’s extended mid-season break.
But Zenit, led by ex-Porto boss Andre Villas-Boas and featuring their rivals’ former star forward Hulk, tired down the stretch and a second yellow card collected by Domenico Criscito for a foul on Andre Almeida paved the way for their downfall.
From Nicolas Gaitan’s resulting free-kick, Jonas stole in to nod home and spark wild celebrations inside Estadio da Luz and ensure Benfica will travel to St Petersburg with a slender lead.
Zenit initially appeared refreshed rather than rusty after 10 weeks without a competitive match, attacking with confidence but lacking quality on the final ball, with Hulk a major culprit.
Almeida received a 16th-minute yellow card for a foul on Criscito that will rule him out of the second leg but the Benfica right-back shrugged off that disappointment to tee up Pizzi – the winger’s resulting shot too close to goalkeeper Yuri Lodygin.
Chances remained a premium as the half-hour approached, with Jonas seeing a curling 25-yard effort deflected wide, although it was becoming a costly evening for Rui Vitoria’s men as Jardel was booked for a clumsy foul on Hulk to ensure he would join Almeida as a spectator in two weeks’ time.
The Brazil forward got up to thump a venomous free-kick wide and neither side came any closer to finding the breakthrough before referee Gianluca Rocchi sounded the half-time whistle.
Zenit midfielder Axel Witzel drove forward in the 52nd minute and Benfica keeper Julio Cesar was not entirely convincing as the Belgian’s drive bounced awkwardly.
Kostas Mitroglou was largely feeding off scraps at the other end but managed to hustle former Benfica defender Ezequiel Garay out of possession to set up Gaitan – the captain’s horribly skewed shot coming as a disappointment.
Zenit’s Javi Garcia became the latest player to collect suspension inducing booking for handball before Gaitan forced Lodygin to repel his firmly hit shot.
Zenit’s inactivity eventually caught up with them and encouraged a Benfica push as centre-backs Victor Lindelof and Jardel combined for the latter to fire wide.
But just as the weary visitors appeared to have weathered the storm, Criscito erred and – with Zenit seemingly distracted by their protests – Jonas pounced to nod home his 25th goal of the season.
Key Opta stats:
– Benfica have scored in each of their last nine European knockout games at home.
– This was Benfica’s first CL clean sheet in six games.
– Zenit failed to score in a European game for the first time in nine matches.
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