Andre Villas-Boas remains confident over Zenit’s chances of reaching the Champions League quarter-final despite a 1-0 injury-time loss at Benfica.
Playing competitively for the first time in 10 weeks following the Russian Premier League’s mid-season break, Zenit were rarely threatened until their lack of match sharpness became apparent during the closing stages at Estadio da Luz on Tuesday.
They were still set to hold on until Domenico Criscito collected a second yellow card and Benfica top scorer Jonas headed home the resulting free-kick from Nicolas Gaitan.
“I think there was no special role played [by the extended break],” the ex-Porto, Chelsea and Tottenham boss told a post-match news conference.
“Tactically and physically we feel good and we almost got a goalless draw.
“Yes, Benfica score at the end but the question of who will go further remains open. One goal gives only the most minimal advantage.
“In front of [the return leg] we will play two more matches in the Russian tournament. It will help to gain the necessary rhythm and the Petrovsky Stadium will not be an easy place for our opponents.”
Midfielder Javi Garcia received a booking that means he, along with Criscito will miss the return fixture in two weeks’ time – a factor Villas-Boas acknowledged as a setback as his available players aim to make it four consecutive home Champions League wins this season and preserve their involvement in the competition.
“I think the main difficulty lies in the fact that we lost two important players due to suspension,” he added.
“The strategy in St Petersburg will be different, for us and Benfica.
“We will play a more open game, which I hope will show us to the best result.”
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