UEFA Europa League Preview: CD Nacional-Zenit St. Petersburg

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UEFA Europa League Preview: CD Nacional-Zenit St. Petersburg

First Leg Kick-Off: August 20, 2009. 21:30 CET, Estadio de Madeira, Funchal, Portugal.

It's only been 15 months since Zenit St. Petersburg won the UEFA Cup in Manchester last May, but the team is considerably changed since then. A new champion has already been crowned and over half of Zenit's starting lineup from that final has departed.

Zenit now travels far west to take on Portugal, but are no strangers to the Iberian Peninsula. The Russian outfit feature two Portuguese players, although only one will participate in the match, being central defender Fernando Meira (pictured above). The club also started it's run to the 2007-08 UEFA Cup by defeating Villareal in a two-legged playoff.

Under the command of new boss Anatoliy Davydov, Zenit has only played one match, a venture to the Urals against fellow Europa League team Amkar Perm.

Although Zenit conceeded two goals in the first 15 minutes playing on a very awkward turf field, the team bounced back to score four unanswered goals en route to a fairly easy victory.

Zenit, despite the summer losses of captain Anatoliy Tymoschuk to Bayern Munich and striker Pavel Pogrebnyak to Stuttgart, could possibly have more depth than before. Only several recent injuries have hindered that.

For CD Nacional, a very different story.

They have not made an appearance in European play since the fall of 2006, where they crashed out of the UEFA Cup to Rapid Bucharest. They could also be facing a very large disadvantage as well, due to the fact that the Portuguese Liga is in its second week while the Russian Premier League is in midseason.

Twenty-goal scorer Nene has also departed, heading to Serie A side Cagliari and still feature an incredibly young side, made up nearly entirely of Portuguese or Brazilian players.

Nacional however, turned in a very solid opening week performance, scoring an early first-half goal against Sporting Lisbon, but ended up with a home draw for their efforts.


Recent Form

Zenit St. Petersburg

August 16 - Amkar Perm 2-4 Zenit St. Petersburg (Russian Premier League)

August 9 - Zenit St. Petersburg 0-2 Tom Tomsk (Russian Premier League)

August 5 - Zenit St. Petersburg 2-1 Nizhny Novgorod (Russia's Cup)

August 2 - Saturn Moscow Oblast 2-2 Zenit St. Petersburg (Russian Premier League)

July 25 - Zenit St. Petersburg 0-0 Rubin Kazan (Russian Premier League)

CD Nacional

August 15 - CD Nacional 1-1 Sporting Lisbon (Portuguese Liga)

May 24 - Sporting Lisbon 3-1 CD Nacional (Portuguese Liga)

May 17 - CD Nacional 1-0 Pacos de Ferreira (Portuguese Liga)

May 10 - Porto 1-0 CD Nacional (Portuguese Liga)

May 2 - CD Nacional 3-1 Benfica (Portuguese Liga)

 

Lineups

Zenit Projected 11: Malafeev, Shirokov, Meira, Lombaerts, Anyukov, Denisov, Rosina, Zyryanov, Semshov, Huszti, Kornilenko

CD Nacional Projected 11: Bracalli, Tomasevic, Pinto, Patacas, Wellington, Salino, Aurelio, Cleber, Pecnik, Anselmo, Amuneke

 

Leading Players

Igor Semshov has been dynamic over the past several matches. Between the Russian national team and Zenit, he has scored three times in the past two matches and could have had five or six in that span.

Zenit goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev, since returning from an injury in a friendly in Austria, has not played his best football. He has allowed several soft goals, including a very poor goal that lost Zenit two points at Saturn Moscow.

For CD Nacional, 21-year-old midfielder Joao Aurelio looks to take another step into leading the team. He got off to a hot start, scoring in the 28th minute against Sporting Lisbon.

 

Prediction

Both sides bring something different to the table. Nacional brings vast youth, pace and flair while Zenit will probably be the most tactical and crisp side that they will face all season. The speed of Nacional could give Zenit some problems, but they will also have to play solid defense, something the inexperienced back line is not known for.

Final Score: CD Nacional 1-3 Zenit St. Petersburg

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