Friday, August 29, 2008

Live blog: UEFA Super Cup, Manchester United v. Zenit St. Petersburg

And here we go! Live from my living room and big-screen TV, I'm here with my compatriots in broadcasting: a plate of homemade breakfast burritos in front of me, a cup of French Vanilla coffee spiked with amaretto liqeur to my right and a bottle of Mill Street Tankhouse Ale to my left. Can't think of a better way to watch soccer than this, except perhaps live at the stadium.

And the lineups:
Manchester United: In goal, Van der Sar. On defence, Neville, Ferdinand, Vidic and Evra. In the middle of the park, Fletcher, Scholes, Anderson and Nani. Up front, Rooney and Tevez.

Zenit St. Petersburg: Malafeev in goal, Anyukov, Krizanac, Puygrenier and Sirl on defence, Zyryanov, Tymoshchuk, Danny and Denisov in the midfield, and Dominguez and Pogrebnyak up front.
looking pretty good in the midfield so far. He's a Portuguese star. What is it with these Portuguese midfielders? Ronaldo, Nani, Danny, Deco, Miguel Veloso: does the country have a monopoly on good midfielders?

12: The game's degenerated into a bit of a midfield battle for the moment: not many chances to speak of.

16: Interesting tidbit from the Fox Soccer Channel commentators: Zenit is sponsored by Russian oil giant Gazprom, which is why they can afford such ridiculous transfer fees. That's the same Gazprom that current Russian president Dmitry Medvedev used to run, and KHL head Alexander Medvedev is the company's deputy chairman. A nice sponsor to have on your side if you happen to live in Russia.

17: And Zenit almost notch the game's first goal with a low cross into the box, but they can't finish.

18: Tevez lets fly from long range, but it's easily handled by the keeper.

23: A poor challenge from Anderson results in a 30-yard free kick awarded to Zenit.

24: Zenit's Argentine striker Alejandro Dominguez lets fly from the set piece with a great curving effort that just misses the top left corner.

28: Rooney makes a nice run forward and almost earns a corner, but is called for an offensive foul.

29: Patrice Evra makes a great run down the left flank, but his cross soars over the net and out of bounds.

30: Good play from Nani and Neville on the right leads to a cross in from Nani, but Malafeev collects it.

35: A great combination play between Rooney and Tevez sees Rooney alone in the box. He spins and fires, but Malafeev makes a tremendous save to preserve the shutout.

37: And Zenit respond! A terrific free kick from 35 yards out finds Krizanac sliding in towards the far post. He gets past Gary Neville, but Van der Sar makes a superb save.

42: Another good chance for Zenit: they're keeping the pressure on.

44: Goal, Zenit. A corner in is flicked on by Denisov to Pogrebnyak, who heads home from right on the goal line. 1-0, Zenit.

45: That's got to be demoralizing for United. Goals right before the half are always tough. They've been doing all right, but Zenit has created more chances lately and the goal was deserved.

46: And the whistle blows for halftime. Zenit 1, United 0.

Second half: And we're back! No changes for United, but Zenit's star striker Andrei Arshavin comes on for Dominguez. This may be his last game for them, as he's been linked with Tottenham and there's only 48 hours left in the transfer window

46: United will need to step up the offensive pressure if they hope to win. They did well early on, but fell down towards the end. They start off with a decent chance.

46: Excellent run on the counterattack for Arshavin, who's making an immediate impact. His cross almost finds an open striker, but Ferdinand does well to cut it out.

48: Another good ball in from Arshavin. Van der Sar comes off his line to make a good save.

52: A strong run from Rooney down the right. He lets fly from 20 yards out and had an open corner of the net, but puts it wide.

55: Tymoshcuk lets fly with a 25-yard blast right at Van der Sar, who can only punch it. The rebound is cleared, though.

57: Rooney and Nani combine for a chance, but they get their wires crossed and Nani's through ball wasn't anticipated by Rooney. Zenit clears.

59: Goal, Zenit. A tremendous run by Danny, who pics it up just inside the United half, runs through the entire defence, crosses Ferdinand up so badly that he's tripping over his own feet, and blasts a 12-yard shot past Van der Sar. That's why they paid all the money for him!

61: Substitutions for United: John O'Shea and Ji-Sung Park in, Anderson and Darren Fletcher out. Nani shifts over to the right flank to replace Fletcher, while Park takes the left and O'Shea takes Anderson's central role.

63: Zenit substition. Puygrenier off, Shirokov on.

63: Wow, they just flashed a possession stat on the screen and Zenit have had 59 per cent of the ball. That's ridiculously dominant.

64: Rooney makes a strong run left and earns a corner, but it's cleared easily.

65: Tevez does well to set up O'Shea, who lets fly from 20 yards. The keeper makes a great save, and then an even better one to deny Park on the rebound. Some good signs of life for United, though.

66: Tevez unleashes another blast that sails just high. He's been one of the best United players today.

69: Tevez with a great ball in for O'Shea. His shot is blocked, but they earn a corner.

70: The corner in is cleared, but it falls to Scholes at the top of the box. His shot sails high, though.

71: Arshavin makes another strong run down the left, but Ferdinand does well to jockey him, and his sharp-angled shot goes wide.

72: Substitution, Zenit. Krizanac off, Radimov on.

73: Goal, United. And the Red Devils are back in the game! A corner from Nani finds Rooney, who knocks it to O'Shea in the middle of the box. O'Shea flicks to Tevez at the far post, who brilliantly hesitates to draw the keeper and defenders instead of blasting a sharp-angle shot that would have been unlikely to succeed, and then drops the ball to Vidic in the middle, who drills it home from 10 yards out. That should set up a great finish.

76: A challenge by Radimov finds the ball and then Park, but he's called for a foul. The United free kick from 25 yards out finds no one, though.

77: Substitution, United. Gary Neville comes off, Wes Brown back on. Good to see Neville back in the side: he still isn't in peak form, though.

78: Great ball in for Park from Rooney, but Malafeev does well to come out and intercept. That could have been an equalizer if the keeper didn't read it so well. Park and O'Shea have both been great since coming on.

80: Danny makes a good run again for Zenit, but his shot from 25 yards out is blocked by Scholes and then cleared by the defence.

82: Park's cross in is contested by Rooney and Malafeev. Rooney does very well to win the ball, but can't get a shot before Malafeev recovers.

84: Rooney does very well, splitting the defence with a cross for Park. Malafeev dives out to punch it clear, though. He's been excellent all game long.

85: Nani lets fly from 20 yards out, and just missed the far corner. United are really putting on the pressure now, but they're running out of time.

86: A tremendous run from Wes Brown down the right and a superb cross, but O'Shea's header is tipped over the bar by Malafeev. The resulting corner is cleared.

87: An incredible counterattack from Zenit, as Danny and Arshavin bamboozle all four United defenders. Danny gets the ball back on the edge of the six-yard box, spins and fires wide from a sharp angle. That easily could have been 3-1.

89: Ferdinand breaks through, but he's offside by a couple inches.

89: United are really going for it now.

90: Incredible. Brown crosses into the centre, and it looks like Scholes got a head on it and knocked it in. It's clear from the replay that he spiked it volleyball-style with his hand, though. Unfortunately, the Hand of Scholes was more easily detected than the Hand of God, so the goal is disallowed, and Scholes is sent off with his second yellow of the day. Four minutes of stoppage time to go.

91: Apparently, I'm not the only one who thought that was a volleyball move. The Fox commentator: "That was a Misty May special." Perhaps Scholes was watching the Olympics?

92: An excellent chance for United off a corner, but Nani's ball in is slightly too far for Ferdinand.

94: One final chance for United, but O'Shea can't come up with the header. The final whistle blows, and Zenit become the first Russian club to ever win this trophy. They deserved the win, too, even though they were outshot 14-12 on the day: Zenit dominated the first two thirds of the game, and then they defended well to withstand the United storm near the end. Full credit to them. For United, there were plenty of hopeful signs, and things should get much better once they get their star midfielders back. It's impressive that they can still compete so well while missing so many superstars. They lacked intensity near the game's start, but they soon found it, which speaks well for their Premier League and Champions League prospects this year.

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