Zenit resist Liverpool's Europa fightback
By Graham Dunbar ,AP
February 23, 2013, 12:01 am TWN
GENEVA -- Zenit St. Petersburg resisted a Liverpool fightback inspired by Luis Suarez to reach the Europa League last 16 on the away-goals rule after a 3-3 aggregate score on Thursday.
Leading 2-0 from the first leg, Zenit was cruising when Hulk scored in the 19th minute goal, but Suarez struck twice with stunning free kicks either side of Joe Allen's close-range finish as Liverpool threatened an unlikely victory.
On a tense night for English clubs, Chelsea was spared extra time against Sparta Prague when Eden Hazard's late goal earned a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge, and a 2-1 aggregate win.
Tottenham got a superb 90th-minute goal from Mousa Dembele to salvage a 1-1 draw in Lyon and advance 3-2 on aggregate.
Inter Milan eased past Cluj, 3-0 in Romania and 5-0 on aggregate, and defending champion Atletico Madrid was eliminated by Rubin Kazan despite winning in Moscow.
Zenit and Rubin were joined by Anzhi Makhachkala as Russia mounts a strong challenge in a last-16 lineup featuring teams from 11 different countries. Anzhi drew 1-1 at Hannover, and advanced 4-2 on aggregate.
Also advancing were Basel, Benfica, Bordeaux, Fenerbahce, Lazio, Levante, Newcastle, Stuttgart and Viktoria Plzen. The Czech Republic side's 2-0 win at home to Napoli completed a 5-0 aggregate score against the second-placed team in Serie A.
In the only match not settled in regulation time, Steaua Bucharest beat Ajax 4-2 in a penalty shootout in Romania after the teams traded 2-0 home wins.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said he was “bitterly disappointed” not to get a decisive fourth goal in a pulsating final half hour at Anfield.
“We were incredible tonight,” Rodgers said. “At 3-0 you might have thought the tie was over and done with. I think the team showed their real character and quality.”
Suarez first fired a 27th-minute free kick through the Zenit defensive wall, and Allen lifted Liverpool by pouncing on a rebound from his own saved header in the 43rd.
Better was to come in the 59th when Suarez curled a right-foot free kick from 30 meters (yards) just inside the right post.
Liverpool pounded the Zenit defense without finding a winning goal, and Hulk was denied a clincher by Pepe Reina's diving stop low to his right in the 73rd.