If some of the surrounding details of the Champions League play-off between Zenit and Auxerre were taken in to consideration, it would be difficult to predict anything other than a comfortable win for Zenit.
Runaway Russian Premier League leaders, Zenit St. Peterburg, based in Europe's fourth largest city, in population terms, bank rolled by one of the world's richest Gas organisation on a 26 game unbeaten run against commune based Auxerre, a couple games in to their season with a team structured upon their famous youth academy.
But football doesn't work that way.
Zenit got at Auxerre from the start, deploying an attacking 4-3-3 shape intent on crisp fast direct interchangeable passing and Zenit got an early reward, three minutes in Aleksandr Kerzhakov placing his header passed the square footed Sorin from a whipped Danko Lazovic cross.
For most of the first half Auxerre were forced deep, Zenit pressing and probing asserting their dominance, Auxerre showing signs of panic, over keen to lump blind balls forward. But for Zenit's possession they were unable to double their advantage, presenting Auxerre with the opportunity to edge back in to the game, Denis Oliech instinctive effort striking the bar shortly before half time.
Auxerre's 4-4-1-1 system blended patience and technical application, at the centre captain Benoit Pedretti using his periphery vision to distribute passes capable of opening Zenit's defence. Pedretti displayed a perfect example of the difference between a long ball and a long pass, pinging accurately from 40 yards in to the path of sole Auxerre striker, Jelen. He should have equalised.
With Pedretti carrying a greater influence over the game, Auxerre matched Zenit in the second half ensuring the score was limited to one and setting themselves up with a good chance of progressing to the rewarding League stage.
Will be an intriguing return leg next Wednesday.
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