Liverpool were left to regret a string of missed chances as Russian champions Zenit St Petersburg completed a convincing 2-0 victory in their Europa League last-32, first leg match on Thursday.
Two goals in three minutes midway through the second half turned the tide in Zenit’s favour after both sides had squandered a hatful of opportunities on a badly churned-up pitch in Russia’s former imperial capital. That makes the home leg at Anfield an uphill struggle, but disappointed Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers tried to put a brave face on the defeat.
“I thought we looked solid and a threat going forward and could have been in the lead at half-time,” he said. “But we gave away two poor goals tonight. We ended up losing the game when we should have won it,” he added.
Hulk put the Russians ahead in the 69th minute with a blistering shot from the edge of the area which just clipped Martin Skrtel to wrong-foot Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina.
Then on 72 minutes, Sergei Semak turned up the heat on Liverpool when he ghosted in behind Skrtel and Glenn Johnson to arrive unmarked on the left to clinically dispatch Aleksandr Anyukov’s cross from the right past Reina.
For Liverpool, Luis Suarez was the chief culprit and could have had a hat-trick in the first half alone but for some profligate finishing. But his worst miss came in the second half as a good collective move orchestrated by Steven Gerrard ended with Stewart Downing teeing up Suarez in front of goal but he curled his shot casually wide. Racist taunts from some of Zenit’s more vociferous fans, which Liverpool officials had feared after recent incidents at the club, failed to materialise.