Zenit 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.