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15 May 2008 09:04
Russian champions Zenit St Petersburg won their first European silverware when second-half goals from Igor Denisov and Konstantin Zyrianov secured a 2-0 victory over Rangers in the Uefa Cup final on Wednesday night.
Denisov slotted home after 72 minutes and fellow midfielder Zyrianov sealed victory with a close-range effort in stoppage time at the City of Manchester stadium to secure the trophy for Zenit in their first European final.
It was the second Uefa Cup success by a Russian side in four seasons following CSKA Moscow’s triumph in 2005.
“Winning a prize like this does not come often in your life,” Zenit coach Dick Advocaat told a news conference. “We are very proud that Zenit won tonight [Wednesday] and after the way we played in this tournament, we really deserved it.”
Rangers supporters travelled south from Glasgow in their thousands, easily outnumbering the Zenit fans inside the stadium and thronging the city centre to watch on big screens.
Defeat ended their quest for an unlikely quadruple with the Scottish League Cup winners still contesting the league title and lining up in the Scottish FA Cup final later this month.
“I cannot speak highly enough of the group of players we have,” said Rangers manager Walter Smith.
“We didn’t think this season would lead to a European final.
Zenit failed to reproduce their impressive demolition of competition favourites Bayern Munich in the semifinals, but their attacking qualities, honed by Dutch coach Dick Advocaat, were too much for a spirited Rangers side.
Zenit gave an early demonstration of their counter-attacking prowess when captain Anatoly Tymoschuk robbed a hesitant Brahim Hemdani in midfield and a swift break ended with Andrei Arshavin shooting narrowly wide.
Rangers quickly settled, though, and Zenit’s Victor Fayzulin made a well-timed interception to clear Jean-Claude Darcheville’s dangerous cross into the goalmouth in a decent opening for both sides.
The Russian side enjoyed plenty of possession with Tymoschuk at the heart of some intricate passing moves. Fayzulin headed over an Arshavin cross, then Alexander Anyukov tested Rangers goalkeeper Neil Alexander with a rasping drive.
Rangers were content to soak up the pressure, showing little attacking intent of their own as Zenit probed away, with Arshavin a menacing presence on the left flank.
Walter Smith’s side conceded only two goals in eight games en route to the final and their organised defence held firm.
Zenit’s Turkish forward Fatih Tekke, handed a place up front by Advocaat in place of suspended striker Pavel Pogrebnyak, was given no opportunity to gain from a succession of Arshavin crosses into the danger area.
Rangers were the first to threaten after the break when they at last created a clear opening, Darcheville getting ahead of his marker to fire a low shot that was parried by Vyacheslav Malafeev.
In the ensuing scramble, Rangers were adamant they should have been awarded a penalty by Swedish referee Peter Frojdfeldt when Barry Ferguson’s flick appeared to strike the arm of Denisov.
Rangers pushed further forward but in doing so left themselves exposed to Zenit’s swift counter-attacks, which on 64 minutes nearly brought the breakthrough.
Alexander rushed out of goal to intercept a long clearance downfield but Arshavin was first to the ball. Rangers were fortunate to have two defenders alive to the danger and Sasa Papac got back to clear Arshavin’s curling strike off the line.
Zenit finally found a way to beat Alexander when Denisov and playmaker Arshavin split the Rangers defence through the middle with the former slotting the ball home from 8m.
Konstantin Zyrianov hit the post from close range a few minutes later before the midfielder converted Tekke’s cross in added time after a fine passing move to spark a Russian party.—Reuters
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