Majestic Zenit triumph in ManchesterWednesday 14 May 2008
Second-half strikes from Igor Denisov and Konstantin Zyrianov gave FC Zenit St. Petersburg their maiden European title at the expense of Rangers FC in the 2007/08 UEFA Cup final, Russia's second triumph in four years.
A repeat of their 4-0 semi-final win against FC Bayern München never seemed likely as coach Dick Advocaat's former side proved difficult to break down for a dominant Zenit. The Glasgow team had chances of their own at the start of the second half but that merely fired Zenit into life and the trophy was effectively theirs 18 minutes from time when Denisov met the ball with a powerful midfield run, found Andrei Arshavin, then collected the return before coolly sliding it to Neil Alexander's left. Zyrianov doubled the margin with virtually the last kick of the game to spark wild Zenit celebrations.
The first half had been tight, yet it could have been very different had Arshavin done better with a chance after four minutes, firing into the side-netting. It was a quick counterattack but much of Zenit's approach play was more considered, Anatoliy Tymoschuk providing the pivot in midfield as Rangers chased shadows. Arshavin proved particularly elusive and supplied a teasing cross that was meekly headed just over by Victor Fayzulin. Advocaat must have wondered what suspended star striker Pavel Pogrebnyak might have done with the same opportunity, while for Rangers counterpart Walter Smith, it all looked very familiar. A fortnight ago his side played a similar game, sitting back for much of the 120 minutes against ACF Fiorentina and inviting attack after attack, soaking it all up before delivering the knockout blow in the penalty shoot-out.
Yet there were signs of intent from Rangers too, and while the Scottish team had waited 77 minutes to create their first true opening in Florence, they took only seven here. Steven Davis sent Jean-Claude Darcheville clear down the left, the Frenchman squared towards Barry Ferguson and it needed a timely Radek Šírl block to deny him. This was to prove a false dawn, although for all their first-half possession Zenit created little, save for Aleksandr Anyukov testing Alexander with a fizzing shot.
As Rangers went in for half-time, they may have glanced at a huge banner among their numerous supporters that read: "This is your chance. This is your time. Become legends." It was probably a message reiterated by Smith at the interval and if so, they appeared to heed it. Nine minutes into the second period Rangers almost went ahead, the impressive Davis again feeding Darcheville, whose shot towards the far post was well blocked by the legs of Vyacheslav Malafeev. Ferguson was first to the rebound and the goalkeeper was grateful for Ivica Križanac's presence of mind in retreating to the line to clear the Rangers captain's goal-bound shot.
Saša Papac repeated the feat at the other end as the match sparked into life. Back for a corner, Fatik Tekke cleared innocuously upfield, where Alexander needlessly opted to run out of his area to collect the loose ball; Arshavin beat the keeper to it and attempted to chip two covering defenders, but Papac proved too tall on the goalline. It was a fleeting reprieve. Ten minutes later Arshavin set up Denisov. Smith threw on Nacho Novo and Lee McCulloch but to no avail and in added time Zyrianov made it two, converting Tekke's centre from point-blank range to etch Zenit's name on the trophy three years after PFC CSKA Moskva earned Russia's maiden European title.
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