Zenit St Petersburg made the ideal start to their Champions League campaign as two first-half goals set them on their way to a comfortable victory at 10-man Benfica. Hulk opened the scoring as early as the fifth minute and the home side's hopes of getting back into the contest appeared remote when goalkeeper Artur was dismissed for a professional foul. Former Benfica midfielder Axel Witsel then doubled Zenit's lead midway through the half and although the Russian side could not add further misery to their opponents, they ensured they began Group C with an important away victory. With German side Bayer Leverkusen and French outfit Monaco their other foes in the group, Andre Villas-Boas' men will feel they have a good chance of reaching the knockout stages for the second season in a row. Key to their hopes could be Oleg Shatov, who shone in Zenit's midfield at the Estadio da Luz. It was the 24-year-old who supplied a superb through ball that left Benfica's defence flat-footed and enabled Hulk to slot, left-footed, past a helpless Artur for his eighth goal in his last 11 games. Artur then made a hash of saving Hulk's free-kick from distance but did well to recover, while at the other end Yuri Lodygin was alert to tip away Eduardo Salvio's strike from 25 yards. Just as Benfica were starting to gain a foothold, they were reduced to 10 men when Artur charged out of his box and brought down Danny, who was attempting to latch on to another Shatov through ball. With the Brazilian stopper the last man, referee Svein Oddvar Moen had no alternative but to show him an 18th-minute red card. It got worse for the hosts four minutes later and it was one of their former players who provided the decisive touch as replacement keeper Paulo Lopes' first touch was to pick the ball out of his net. Belgium midfielder Witsel, who signed for Zenit from Benfica in September 2012 for 40million euro, headed home at the near post from Danny's corner. Zenit, who have won all seven of their Russian Premier League fixtures, continued to boss proceedings thereafter with Hulk's once again going close, the former Porto striker just shooting wide from the edge of the area. Witsel saw his strike well saved by Paulo Lopes while Zenit's dominance continued into the second half. Venezuelan forward Jose Salomon Rondon struck the side netting while the ever dangerous Hulk saw his close-range effort marvellously tipped away by Lopes. Lodygin kept his goal in tact with a smart save from Rodrigo Lima and another excellent Shatov ball through to Hulk ended with the Brazilian narrowly missing the target. Benfica finished strongly but they failed to breach the Zenit goal as Villas-Boas' men defended with aplomb to seal an impressive three points.
Football CHAMPIONS LEAGUE