Shirokov: Zenit favourites to top group now

Zenit St Petersburg midfielder Roman Shirokov has dismissed Cypriot champions APOEL Nicosia as nothing more than Champions League pretenders as the group phase approaches its climax.

Shirokov boldly predicted outright victory for his team when the Russian champions host surprise Group G leaders APOEL in a penultimate round match on Wednesday.

"I think you can call us the group favourites now," he told reporters after Zenit beat Ukraine's Shakhtar Donetsk 1-0 in their previous fixture to stay in second place with seven points from four matches, a point behind the Cypriots.

"We still have one more home game to play against this surprising team, but we must beat them and advance to the knockout round. We should have won our first match against them [in Cyprus] but just committed too many errors," he added.

"Hopefully, we won't make the same mistake this time."

The outspoken Russia international infuriated Spartak Moscow fans this year with his comments on Twitter.

"Hey you little pigs, congratulations on the well-deserved defeat!" he wrote after Zenit crushed their bitter Russian league rivals 3-0.

He also called Slovakia's national side a "farmers' team" after Russia beat the Slovaks 1-0 in last month's Euro 2012 qualifier to all but secure a place in next year's finals.

At least Shirokov can back up his provocative comments. He is Zenit's top scorer in the Champions League with three goals in four games - not a bad statistic for a holding midfielder.

AMAZING RUN

APOEL came from behind to stun Zenit 2-1 in their group opener in September and have continued their amazing run in Europe to remain the only unbeaten team in the group.

The Cypriots would reach the knockout round for the first time in their history if they avoid defeat in St Petersburg.

"We have chances of being in the round of 16 and we're going to chase them in the two remaining matches," said APOEL captain Constantinos Charalambides. "We're a team which does well in these kind of challenges."

The visitors are sweating on the fitness of their top striker, Brazilian Ailton Almeida, who has scored three of his team's six goals in four group matches, while his compatriot defender William Boaventura is out injured.

Zenit have their own injury problems. Striker Alexander Kerzhakov, the team's leading scorer in the Russian league this season, is sidelined with an ankle sprain, while influential Portugal winger Danny is still being troubled by a bad knee.


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