ST PETERSBURG (Reuters) – Seven-times European champions AC Milan needed a late own goal to beat Zenit St Petersburg 3-2 in an entertaining Champions League Group C match on Wednesday.
The Russians fought back from 2-0 down with two goals in four minutes to level before Milan scored the winner with 15 minutes remaining when a low Riccardo Montolivo shot hit Zenit defender Tomas Hubocan and slid into the near corner.
The Italians scored twice in the first quarter of an hour, with the home side in disarray. Urby Emanuelson put the visitors ahead with a 20-metre free kick that took a deflection, wrong-footing Zenit keeper Vyacheslav Malafeyev in the 13th minute.
Stephan El Shaarawy, who turns 20 this month, doubled the lead three minutes later after a mazy solo run through the Zenit defence, becoming the youngest player to score for Milan in the continent’s elite club competition.
Brazil striker Hulk pulled one back for the home side with a powerful left-foot blast from inside the box after a nice through ball from Roman Shirokov just before the break.
It was Hulk’s third goal in six matches for Zenit since joining them from Porto for a Russian league record 60 million euros ($77.41 million) before last month’s transfer deadline.
Midfielder Shirokov, Zenit’s leading scorer in the Champions League last season with five goals, headed a 49th-minute equaliser from a Hulk corner.
But the Russian champions paid the price for sloppy defending when Montolivo slid in unmarked at the near post to fire in a shot from a low cross which struck Hubocan’s leg before ending up in the back of the net.
Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri, under intense pressure from home fans following an inauspicious start to the season, singled out goalkeeper Christian Abbiati for helping his team snatch three points in St Petersburg.
"It was a very important victory for us because it’s not easy to beat Zenit on their turf," Allegri told reporters.
"Abbiati played very well and I’m satisfied with how our centre-backs played, they fulfilled their function."
His Zenit counterpart Luciano Spalletti blamed bad luck for his team’s second defeat in two games following a 3-0 drubbing by unfancied Malaga.
"I’m very disappointed. I’m disappointed for our players and also for the people who came to the stadium to support us," said the Italian coach.
"We looked bad in the first 20 minutes, but then we showed character in fighting back. We fully deserved to score the two goals and probably deserved even more but we were really unlucky when they scored their third."
The defeat piled more misery on Zenit, who have been in turmoil for the past week with several senior players apparently unhappy after the club last month splashed out more than $100 million on Hulk and Belgium midfielder Axel Witsel.
Zenit demoted Russia captain Igor Denisov to the reserve team last week after the midfielder issued an ultimatum to renegotiate his contract and refused to play.
(Writing by Gennady Fyodorov, editing by Ed Osmond)
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