MOSCOW, September 18 (RIA Novosti)
Two stunning goals from Spanish forward Isco helped Malaga to a 3-0 win over Zenit St. Petersburg in their Champions League group stage opener on Tuesday.
The 20-year-old prodigy opened the scoring on just three minutes, evading the lunge of Zenit's Konstantin Zyranov to skip past Alexander Anyukov, cut into the box from the right and place a curling shot around Vyacheslav Malafeev in the Zenit goal.
Javier Saviola, tucked the ball away off the left upright ten minutes later, before Isco powered home a right-footed drive from the edge of the area on 76 minutes.
Isco's performance overshadowed the European debut for Zenit of Hulk, who hit the crossbar early on but was marked out of the rest of the game and picked up a late yellow card for simulation on a miserable night for Luciano Spalletti's side.
Zenit next host AC Milan on October 3, while Malaga play Belgian side Anderlecht.
It appeared Zenit might recover from the early goal when Hulk, on his first start since his €40 million move from Porto, smashed a left-foot effort off the underside of the Malaga crossbar with goalkeeper Wilfredo Caballero glued to the spot.
But on 13 minutes Zenit were ripped apart again with a ferociously simple two-pass move.
Francisco Portillo released Jesus Gamaz on the right side of the Zenit box, and the right-back slipped an inch-perfect square pass to Saviola, who finished clinically.
Malafeev was on the floor after a defense-splitting pass caused havoc in the visitors' box but managed to claw away from Saviola soon after.
The Russian champions settled, however, and put together an incisive move of their own when Alexander Kerzhkov released Viktor Faizulin with a neat reverse pass, but Caballero narrowly beat the midfielder to the ball and the danger was cleared.
At the other end, Saviola poked over from a counterattack.
But Zenit were beginning to control the tempo. Hulk was released down the right, and again the Brazilian cut inside to fire a left-footer, but Caballero held onto the awkward bouncer.
Then, Roman Shirokov knocked down a corner to Kerzhakov at the back post, and the Russia striker hit a snapshot with his left foot that Caballero tipped past the post.
Shirokov then missed perhaps the chance of the half on 42 minutes heading a cross into Caballero's grateful arms when unmarked eight yards out.
Nicolas Lombaerts all but repeated the feat from a corner a minute later.
Kerzhakov rippled the outer netting in the first moments of the second half after a cutting pass from Faizulin, the kind of chance he takes regularly in the Russian championship.
But Malafeev came to Zenit's rescue moments later, rushing out to block from Portuguese winger Eliseu, who had broken free from the Zenit defense to go one-on-one with the Russian stopper.
Possession remained with Zenit for sustained periods thereafter.
Russia captain Igor Denisov lofted an inviting ball over the back of the Malaga defense that substitute Vladimir Bystrov latched onto, only to have Caballero knock it out from under his feet before he could shoot.
The ball rebounded to Shirokov, who curled over.
Hulk, restricted to cameos in the first half on the right wing, took up a more central position as the second half wore on, but Malaga's defense doubled up on him to neutralize the threat.
On 73 minutes, Malaga's Nacho Monreal burst past Anyukov and lashed a shot narrowly over Malafeev's bar.
Zenit were getting nowhere for all their control of the ball, prompting coach Luciano Spalletti to bring on 18-year-old Montenegrin forward Luka Djordjevic for the aging Zyryanov.
But Malaga had other ideas and sealed the three points in the very next minute.
Isco added to his reputation as one of Spain's top prospects by arrowing a shot into Malafeev's top-left corner with startlingly little back-lift.
Joaquin should have made it four when played in by Eliseu but his close-range effort was pawed away by Malafeev.
It was the former Spain international's final act, replaced by Portuguese player Duda, who hit the crossbar with a header moments later.
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