Zenit St. Petersburg 2-3 AC Milan
Milan faced a stern test in their second Champions League encounter of the campaign, needing a strong result after taking only a point in a drab performance against Belgians Anderlecht at the San Siro two weeks ago. Forma Roma coach Luciano Spalletti's Zenit came into the match having struggled of late despite the high-profile acquisitions of Axel Witsel and Hulk, registering just 2 draws and 2 defeats in their last 4 games in the Russian Premier League. However, Zenit were given confidence in not having lost in continental competition at the Petrovsky Stadium since 2008, whilst Milan had not won on the road in the Champions League since November of 2010.
In spite of the hostile environment, the Rossoneri ran out on the front foot, dominating possession in the early stages and barraging the Zenit net with a variety of efforts from Kevin Prince-Boateng, Urby Emanuelson, and Bojan Krkic. On 13 minutes, Milan broke through on an Emanuelson free-kick with a stroke of fortune. The Dutch international curled his attempt towards the near post, but the shot took a wicked deflection off of the ascending Zenit wall and was rerouted in looping fashion into the opposite side of the net with Zenit keeper Vyacheslav Malafeev wrong-footed. Just 3 minutes later, youth sensation Stephan El Sharaawy doubled Milan's lead with a solo stunner. The 19 year-old Egyptian-Italian received the ball in midfield and proceeded to endeavor on a mazy run through the heart of the Russian opposition, skillfully beating multiple defenders en route to a low, right footed finish on the slide. It was a dream start for the Rossoneri, but Zenit began to grow into the match facing a 2-0 deficit, monopolizing possession and testing Christian Abbiati. Yet the veteran Italian was up for the challenge, making a string of fantastic saves on headers from Roman Shirokov and Tomas Hubocan and a fierce free-kick from the powerful Hulk. However, the Brazilian got his revenge on the stroke of halftime, latching on to a Shirokov through ball down the left and smashing past Abbiati to pull a goal back for Zenit.
After the restart, the home side wasted no time in equalizing with only 4 minutes gone in the period. The active Shirokov this time broke away from marker Riccardo Montolivo to head home at the far post as Hulk turned provider on the corner kick. Zenit began to control the run of play, holding on to the ball for long periods, but struggling to break down a resolved Milan defense. Play was halted momentarily on 58 minutes under bizarre circumstances, as the Rossoneri goal was found to have a hole in its netting; versatile Zenit winger Vladimir Bystrov demonstrated his problem-solving aptitude by rectifying the situation with a series of knots, as match officials appeared dumbfounded as to how to fix the problem. The Diavolo pressed more effectively following the resumption of play, and the match returned to an even flow with both sides creating chances. On 75 minutes, Milan reclaimed the lead under dramatic circumstances, once again employing a stroke of luck to gain an advantage. Montolivo served a dangerous cross into the penalty area after receiving a well placed pass from Nigel De Jong; substitute Giampaolo Pazzini came sliding in to finish, but the ball instead deflected off of the hapless Tomas Hubocan and past Malafeev for an own goal. Zenit pushed for another equalizer in the last 15 minutes, and nearly found one only for the inspired Abbiati to heroically push Aleksandr Anyukov's half volley around the post with one hand. The Rossoneri defended well for the remaining time, and claimed a much needed 3 points at the raucous and inhospitable Petrovsky Stadium.
SerieAzzurri Calcio Man of the Match: Christian Abbiati, Milan (6 saves)