Zenit St Petersburg, UEFA Cup Champions

UEFA Cup LogoZenit St Petersburg lifted the UEFA Cup last night, after a well deserved 2-0 victory over Scottish side Glasgow Rangers.

In front of tens of thousands of Russian fans who had travelled to Manchester for the game, Zenit were clearly the better side. But, although dominating the early exchanges, Zenit were unable to pierce Rangers’ well organised defence – the bedrock of their UEFA Cup campaign so far – during the first half.

But on 72 minutes, a wonderful goal from Igor Denisov, who burst through the Rangers defence, turned the final decisively in Zenit’s favour.

Rangers tried to push for the extra goal, but all of their desperate attacks were repulsed by Zenit and even a Rangers penalty claim was turned down by the referee.

Konstantin Zyrinaov sealed victory, and the title, for Zenit wth a cool side-foot into the net four minutes into stoppage time.

Russia is, as you would imagine, ecstatic – the victory was important enough that Prime Minister Putin called manager Dick Advocaat after the match to congratulate him. (No word, though, of whether new President Dmitry Medvedev, who is apparently a Zenit supporter, made a congratulatory call).

Victory in the UEFA Cup will be a wonderful boost for football in Russia, and for St Petersburg in particular. They’ll be especially pleased that CSKA Moscow, who won this tournament back in 2005 can no longer lord it over them.  Although they will worry slightly that victory will attract the attention of Europe’s biggest clubs, who will be keen to poach Zenit’s best players, and their world renowned coach Dick Advocaat.

The only downside to the match was the news that one Russian fan was stabbed by Rangers fans during the match. He’s reported to be in stable condition, and out of danger, but this can only heighten tension ahead of the Champions League FInal in Moscow next week. Two English teams will be playing in Moscow, but there will be a segment of Russian fans who want revenge, and who may not make the distinction between English and Scottish fans.

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9 Responses

  1. Good ol’ Piter.

    It’s quite a pleasure to ride one of those very near water level tour boats alongside that great city.

    Unfortunately, American ESPN shows Champions League matches, without showing any UEFA ones. My Russian friend with the Russian TV dish access was out of town. ESPN was good enough to show some of the highlights of the Rangers-Zenit UEFA final.

    Too bad about the fan violence. In other instances, it has been regretfully worse.

    The current major Russian sports item can be found here:

    http://www.iihf.com

    It will be a disappointment for Russia if it doesn’t win this year’s IIHF Championship.

  2. Naughty Kovalchuk.

  3. GER O'BRIEN says:

    ”Unfortunately, American ESPN shows Champions League matches, without showing any UEFA ones.”

    You didnt miss a whole lot in fairness, the highlights were enough. It wasnt a great game, but then finals rarely are.

    ”Too bad about the fan violence. In other instances, it has been regretfully worse.”

    A Bobby got his front teeth knocked in by a headbutt. I bet he wished Fiorentina had beaten Rangers in the semi-final. Dreadful stuff. The Russians behaved and had a good time though. Pete’s fans are by no means the worst in Russia anyway -that title goes to Dynamo Moskva easily (avoid their home games at all costs), followed by CSKA. Spartak fans can get lively too.

    ”The current major Russian sports item can be found here:”

    Ahem:-) I think a lot of Russians prefer football:-)…..

    …”It will be a disappointment for Russia if it doesn’t win this year’s IIHF Championship.”

    Until yesterday anyway! Wow, great stuff, Russia won! Their first for more than 10 years I believe.

    ”It’s quite a pleasure to ride one of those very near water level tour boats alongside that great city.”

    It is indeed, I like Petes a lot – its very refreshing to go there having been in Moscow, nice change of pace and much nicer air. Its a fine city and great that it finally has a European trophy.

  4. Following the Zenit win, the big sports item in Russia was the IIHF World Championship tournament. At its web site, RTTV has had Russia’s thrilling championsip win as the lead news item for at least the past 24 hours. Within that time period, RTTV has also interviewed legendary Russian ice hockey defencemen Slava Fetisov on Russia’s ice hockey victory. I received some private hurrahs on the victory from Russia.

    Among all of the major ice hockey playing Euroepan countries, I suspect that football (soccer) is the more popular sport. It’s the most popular sport in the world. Like many Americans with a European or South American born father, I always had an appreciation for football. In terms of playing surface and equipment, football is a cheaper and easier game to play than ice hockey. Ice hockey is nevertheless a great sport. Vis-a-vis football: at the elite level, Russia has had greater succcess in ice hockey

    I regret ice hockey’s overall lack of popularity in comparison to some other sports. It still has a pretty good following. Many fans of American football like the physical play in ice hockey. Many fans of football are attracted to the similarites between ice hockey and football.

    Ilya Kovalchuk’s two goals in the championship game made up for some earlier poor play on his part. He came thru in the clutch.

    Next up is the Champions League final in Moskva.

  5. GER O'BRIEN says:

    ”Among all of the major ice hockey playing Euroepan countries, I suspect that football (soccer) is the more popular sport.”

    You’re probably right, and it is down to equipment to a large extent-football can be and is played everywhere, on any patch of ground or space at all, hockey is a bit more complex to organise! Actually I wonder if hockey is an upper-class sport in Russia, at least amoung players. I was at CSKA one day and saw a few young guys heading in with all their gear; from how the dressed and their conversation(i.e. no bad language!), they seemed like they were from a good part of town, so to speak. I could be totally wrong; it was just an impression I briefly got.

    ”Vis-a-vis football: at the elite level, Russia has had greater succcess in ice hockey”
    Definitely. But the USSR did win the European Championship in football in 1968, a great achievement. Who knows what Hiddink has planned for this summer too. The championship has produced amazing wins in recent years -Denmark in 1992 and Greece in 2004 -so its not beyond the bounds of possibility. But I wouldnt bet on it still. Russian teams, even good ones, have a habit of imploding when things go a bit wrong. Their 4-3 defeat by Belgium in 1986, when they really were a good team, is a World Cup legend at this stage.

    ”Next up is the Champions League final in Moskva.”

    Here’s hoping no-one gets a hiding:-)

  6. At the youth level, playing organized ice hockey with all of the equipment, indoor rink, coaches and refs is expensive.

    In the US and Canada, there’s a mix of wealthy, middle class and lower middle class families willing to shell out the dough for such activity.

    In New York, the NHL Rangers team funds a hockey in Harlem program which makes it easier for children of that area to play the game. In Russia, I suspect that some of the top youth sports clubs might offer special deals for talented players, whose parents can’t afford whatever set fee might be in place. I understand that in Finland and Slovakia, ice hockey is offered at the grade school level. American high school ice hockey is an ongoing project.

    Ice hockey skills can be informally developed as well. Ice hockey legend Gordie Howe started playing the game on frozen ponds with a frozen piece of cow turd as a puck.

    At the youth level, it helps having nearby frozen natural surroundings to further improve one’s skill at the game. Indoor rink availability can be limited.

  7. Tim Newman says:

    The skill with which the Russian boys whizz around the public ice-rinks (or rather, a patch of ground deliberately frozen and scraped once a day by a sulking, but cash-laden, Central Asian) in Sakhalin is impressive. I have a mate here who learned to skate when he was a kid, and he can whizz around backwards, forwards, pulling people about, everything you can think of without taking falling over once. He doesn’t even bother to wear gloves he’s so confident of not falling.

  8. GER O'BRIEN says:

    ”The skill with which the Russian boys whizz around the public ice-rinks (or rather, a patch of ground deliberately frozen…”

    Indeed, I have witnessed such kids, and I have also seen plenty of good quality street football here amoung teenagers – excellent ball control and killing skills and passing. But, just like in so many other countries, the kids give it up when they get a bit older and turn to beer, girls and discos (which one can hardly blame for). What interested me most was how they are comfortable on the ball; very few Irish kids are, they just want to get rid of it as soon as they get it, but the Russians want it.

    ”In the US and Canada, there’s a mix of wealthy, middle class and lower middle class families willing to shell out the dough for such activity.”

    Thats good to hear, and maybe its the same in Russia, I just dont know. But as you’ve said earlier it obviously suffers from organisational and financial difficulties that soccer doesnt have. But its a great game, I love watching it though its seldom on tv here(I dont have subscription sports channels, simply cos I’d never leave the couch if I did). Were Maxim Sushinsky and Sergei Markov playing? I remember these guys were all action.

    ”Next up is the Champions League final in Moskva.”

    Indeed it has come and gone, and credit to the Russians, by all accounts it was well organised, lots of fun and the cops behaved themselves. The game wasnt bad either; I just feel so sorry for John Terry. What a misfortune. That was hard to watch.
    Interesting piece here:
    http://www.themoscowtimes.com/article/600/42/367646.htm

    Wouldnt it be great if the Russians would just scrap visas, or even introduce a pay-at-the-border scheme like Turkey?

  9. Tim Newman says:

    What a misfortune. That was hard to watch.

    Not for me it wasn’t. Guffaw!

    Admittedly though, the real twat of the penalty shootout was Ronaldo. And Terry would never have been required to take a penalty if that idiot Drogba had refrained from playing pat-a-cake.

    Wouldnt it be great if the Russians would just scrap visas, or even introduce a pay-at-the-border scheme like Turkey?

    It would, but I can’t see the paranoia over foreigners going away any time soon. You wouldn’t believe the hoops we have to jump through to get a foreigner on an offshore platform.