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Del Piero rocket scrapes Juve past Zenit

SoccerNews in Serie A, UEFA Champions League 17 Sep 2008

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Juventus marked their return to the Champions League after a two year absence with a hard-fought 1-0 Group H victory over UEFA Cup holders Zenit St Petersburg here on Wednesday.

There was little to choose between the two sides until veteran Italy forward Alessandro Del Piero's swerving 30-yard freekick deceived goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev.

Juve coach Claudio Ranieri showed off his team's attacking strength in depth by restoring Del Piero and David Trezeguet to the starting line up at the expense of Amauri and Vincenzo Iaquinta, who had started at the weekend against Udinese.

But Zenit had the first clear chance of the match with Danny almost turning home a sweeping move on 11 minutes after Igor Denisov headed Pavel Pogrebnyak's left wing cross back across goal for the Portugal forward, who shot wide with the goal at his mercy.

Minutes later, though, Zenit gave the ball away in midfield and Del Piero almost capitalised, crossing for Trezeguet who disappointingly headed well wide.

Del Piero almost freed his French strike partner in the box on 20 minutes but Trezeguet couldn't quite stretch his leg out far enough to bring the ball under control.

The hosts were gradually getting the upper hand and on 26 minutes Argentine-born Italy midfielder Mauro Camoranesi clipped the outside of the post with a close range header from a Del Piero free-kick.

Pogrebnyak almost bundled his way through late on in what was a largely tepid half but that chance, like most others, was snuffed out.

Zenit visibly grew in confidence after the break and started to see a lot more of the ball with the previously ineffective Andrei Arshavin increasingly getting involved.

They were denied a freekick on the edge of the Juve box when Denisov went to ground a little too easily under a challenge from Momo Sissoko.

But on 56 minutes Arshavin played in Radek Sirl only for Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon to rush out and block the leftback's shot.

Juve started to come back into things, though, as Denmark midfielder Christian Poulsen forced Malafeev into a sprawling save with a flicked header from a Pavel Nedved freekick on 74 minutes.

Just two minutes later came Del Piero's winning strike.

Zenit, who seemed to have missed their chance, had one last opportunity as Arshavin burst past two tackles and into the box but centre-back Giorgio Chiellini stood his ground and stopped the little magician in his tracks.

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