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Zenit v Benfica: Villas-Boas confident of making history

Andre Villas-Boas is optimistic that Zenit can overturn their 1-0 first-leg deficit against Benfica and reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the first time in their history.

This season is the third time in five years that the Russian champions have reached the knockout stages, but their previous visits have ended in disappointment, including when they were beaten by Benfica over two legs in 2012.

This is the first time the Portuguese title holders have reached the knockout stages since that season, when they went on to be beaten by eventual winners Chelsea in the last eight.

The first leg of this tie saw Benfica claim the advantage in a dramatic finish, with Jonas netting in the last minute and Domenico Criscito receiving a red card in a game that was seconds away from finishing goalless.

Villas-Boas, though, is confident that home advantage will be a decisive factor which will allow Zenit to progress.

“In the return leg at we have such an advantage with our fans,” said Villas-Boas.  

“I am sure it will be a full stadium and they will create the atmosphere that will help the team to a new level. 

“We are confident that we can score the necessary goals. The quarter-finals of the Champions League is our dream – it will be a major event for Russian football. And of course, this special emotion will help us on Wednesday.”

Zenit do have some reason to be optimistic – they have won all three of their Champions League home games this season and are unbeaten in seven games at home to Portuguese sides, while Benfica have lost four of their last five away clashes in the knockout rounds.

They do go into the second leg with just one win in three matches in 2016, though, after drawing 0-0 with Krasnodar in the league on Saturday and they sit nine points behind leaders CSKA Moscow in fifth position.

Benfica, meanwhile, have won 11 of their last 12 league games and defeated title rivals Sporting CP 1-0 away at the weekend to go top of the table, but first-leg hero and top scorer Jonas knows there is no margin for error in Europe.

“Now it’s kill or be killed,” the forward told UEFA. “It’s different from playing six matches in the group stage – it’s only two games and you can’t let your guard down because that can cost you qualification. You need to double your focus.

“Everyone knows the Champions League’s financial factor is important for the club and also the profile the competition gives you. The goal we set at the start of the season was to get through the group stage and then take it match by match. We have reached our target and now we have to continue.”

Javi Garcia and Criscito are suspended for the hosts, while Andre Almeida and Jardel are serving bans for Benfica. The vistiors are also without Julio Cesar (thigh) and Luisao (arm) as Zenit manage without Viktor Faizulin (knee).

The last time the two teams met in Russia saw Zenit win 1-0 in the 2014-15 group stage, a result that would send the tie to extra-time if repeated.

Key Opta stats:
– Zenit and Benfica have picked up the most cards in the Champions League this season: 24 and 23 respectively. The first-leg produced six yellow cards and a red card.
– Zenit’s Artem Dzyuba has scored or assisted 61.5 per cent of his team’s goals in the Champions League this season (eight out of 13).
– Hulk’s next Champions League game will be his 50th in the competition. He has scored three goals and delivered four assists in six games this season.

Mon 7 Mar, 2016
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