MOSCOW, July 22 (RIA Novosti)
A brace from Alexander Kerzhakov helped reigning Russian champions Zenit St. Petersburg open their title defense with a 2-0 defeat of Amkar Perm on Sunday.
Kerzhakov, criticized for poor performances at Euro 2012 with the Russian national team, hit a goal in each half to put his troubles behind him and register the club's 21st-consecutive opening win.
He stroked confidently into the corner on 37 minutes after Roman Shirokov's through ball, and doubled the lead on the hour mark from the penalty spot after Sergei Semak was fouled by Amkar's Konstantin Vasilyev.
"We were up against really strong opponents," Zenit coach Luciano Spalletti said. "Before Kerzhakov scored, Amkar felt very comfortable and made life difficult for us."
It was a seventh time in the nine last encounters that Amkar have failed to score against Zenit.
"I like the first half," Amkar coach Nikolai Trubachev said. "In the second half, Zenit stepped it up. Zenit are just Zenit, what can you say?"
Amkar, playing away against the title holders, didn't hold back, attacking boldly and creating several good opportunities in the opening half.
Zenit midfielder Viktor Failzulin made a goal line clearance after just 11 minutes, when Amkar midfielder Vitaly Grishin rose in the box to head toward the corner.
Zenit goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev, making his 300th league appearance for Zenit, made a good save on the half-hour mark from Amkar midfielder Alexander Kolomeitsev.
However, by the end of the first half the hosts seized the initiative. Italy defender Domenico Criscito sent the ball just past the post after collecting a cheeky backheel from Sergei Semak.
Zenit started the second half brightly and dominated from thereon in.
Amkar defender Sergei Cherenchikov cleared Semak's 49th-minute effort off the line, and Kerzhakov shot off-target from close range on 57 minutes.
Igor Denisov was denied a rare goal when the defensive midfielder burst through and struck against the inside of the left-hand post, only for the ball to bobble along the goal line and bounce off the other post and away to safety.
Semak pounced on the rebound but Roman Gerus closed down the angle and saved.
The game was attended by former England boss Fabio Capello, who has agreed to take over Russia team on a two-year deal and is expected to sign the contract next week.
On Sunday the Italian watched CSKA Moscow score a narrow win over FC Rostov thanks to a second-half strike from Seydou Doumbia.
Elsewhere, a late own goal handed Spartak Moscow a 2-1 victory over Alania Vladikavkaz and Dynamo Moscow were stunned 1-0 by ten-man FC Volga.
In Friday's season-opener, Lokomotiv Moscow held on for a dramatic 3-2 win over newly promoted Mordovia Saransk.
Later on Sunday Krylya Sovetov welcome Terek Grozny and Dan Petrescu's Kuban travel to Anzhi Makhachkala.
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