Zenit St. Petersburg wins UEFA Cup
Beating Rangers 2-0 in final
Russia is becoming a growing force in European club soccer.
Zenit St. Petersburg won its first European trophy — and Russia`s second — by beating Rangers 2-0 Wednesday in the UEFA Cup final.
Three years ago, CSKA Moscow won the UEFA Cup title to become the first Russian team to earn a European honor.
On Wednesday, Igor Denisov scored the first goal in the 72nd minute after playing a one-two with Andrei Arshavin and cutting through the Rangers defense before beating goalkeeper Neil Alexander.
Konstantin Zyryanov added the second in injury time, tapping the ball over the line off a pass from Fatih Tekke.
"We controlled the game from the very beginning," Arshavin said through a translator. "We attacked more. When we were successful against our oponent`s goal, I knew we would win."
Denisov escaped being penalized for a handball early in the second half. Rangers defender Kirk Broadfoot also escaped punishment for an alleged handball incident late in the first half.
The match was marred by violence in downtown Manchester, where more than 100,000 ticketless Rangers fans mingled before watching the final on giant screens.
Police and fans clashed when one screen broke down 15 minutes before kickoff. Several fans and police were injured in the resulting skirmish, but none seriously.
Thirty people for various offenses, including six Rangers` fans in relation to the stabbing of a Russian supporter outside the City of Manchester Stadium before the game. Police said he had non-life threatening injuries.
Back in the stadium, Zenit coach Dick Advocaat, who led Rangers from 1998-2002, won his first European title with the victory. He leapt in the air at the final whistle.
"I feel very happy winning the prize like this," Advocaat said. "That doesn`t come very often in life. The way we played in this tournament, we really deserved this."
Zenit players put on gold shirts and gave their opponents a guard of honor, applauding as the Scottish team filed past to collect their runner-up medals from UEFA president Michel Platini.
"Over the tournament we`ve worked very hard to get to the final. There was not that much in it overall and we had a few chances ourselves," said Rangers manager Walter Smith, who was replaced by Advocaat in his first spell at the Glasgow club. "Zenit looked the more offensive team but obviously at this stage I`m disappointed to have lost."
The well-traveled Advocaat has transformed Zenit since joining in 2006. This past season the Dutchman led Zenit to its first Russian league title, meaning the club will play in the European Champions League next season.
Zenit eliminated Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen on the way to the final and also has significant support to build on its success. It`s owned by Russian natural gas giant Gazprom and has fans in high places, most notably former Russian prime minister Viktor Zubkov who celebrated with the players after the match in the locker room.
New Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, who like his predecessor Vladimir Putin, is from St. Petersburg and also is a fan.
Zenit dominated the first half, having the greater possession and nearly all the chances at the City of Manchester Stadium.
Alexander stopped attacks from Zenit captain Anatoliy Tymoschuk, Radek Sirl, Zyryanov and Alexander Anyukov, while Arshavin sent a shot into the side netting and Viktor Fayzulin headed over the bar.
Rangers finally mustered its best first-half chance in the 37th when Steven Whittaker headed over the bar.
Rangers played with more energy in the second period, enjoying its best chances of the match in the 54th when Jean-Claude Darcheville had a shot pushed away by goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev and Barry Ferguson hit the post with rebound.
That sparked Rangers into action and Whittaker had a shot deflected wide in the 64th.
In the subsequent counterattack, Arshavin had a shot headed off the line by Sasa Papac after he had gotten around Alexander, who had run out of the box in an attempt to clear.
Zyryanov hit the post in the 75th before Rangers sent on striker Nacho Novo for Papac.
With 10 minutes remaining, Rangers threw on attacking midfielder Lee McCulloch — then a third striker in Kris Boyd in the 87th, but the Scottish team couldn`t force the match into extra time.
Rangers won its only European trophy in 1972, beating Dynamo Moscow in the defunct Cup Winners` Cup.
The Scottish fans filled two-thirds of the stadium and more than 100,000 more were in downtown Manchester watching on giant screens. Scottish police said 25,000 fans had filled Rangers` stadium in Glasgow to watch a live telecast, according to The International Herald Tribune.
While the Russian season is only a couple of months in — and Zenit was allowed to postpone several league games to prepare for the UEFA Cup final — Rangers is at the end of its season in Scotland.
Rangers already has won the Scottish League Cup, is in the May 24 final of the Scottish Cup and in contention for the league title as well. It has three league games left after Wednesday.
"We`ve had a terrific tournament," Smith said. "It doesn`t take away the disappointment but in the end I can have no complaints."