Zenit aim for first European silver

The Russians look to collect their first European title in Manchester.

    Andrey Arshavin: A key man for Zenit St Petersburg
    Zenit St Petersburg will chase their first European silverware when the free-scoring Russian champions take on Rangers in the Uefa Cup final at the City of Manchester stadium on Wednesday.

    Zenit, bidding to become the second Russian side in four seasons to lift the trophy after CSKA Moscow's success in 2005, have produced some memorable performances en route to their first European final.

    The Russians overcame Villarreal and Olympique Marseille in the early knockout rounds before making the rest of Europe sit up with a 4-1 quarter-final, first-leg demolition of Bayer Leverkusen in Germany.

    Then, in the semis, Zenit held Bayern Munich at home before stunning the four-time European champions with a 4-0 rout in the return to qualify for the final in style.

    Zenit coach Dick Advocaat said the Uefa Cup final was the most important game of the season for his club, who have made an indifferent start to the defence of their Russian title.

    "That's what I told my players," the Dutchman said.

    "After we beat Bayern I told them if you play like you did against the Germans you have a good chance of winning the trophy."

    Absent firepower

    Zenit will be without Russia striker Pavel Pogrebnyak, the competition's joint top-scorer with 10 goals, who is suspended but welcome back influential playmaker Andrei Arshavin who missed the second leg of the semi-final.

    "I don't like to talk about individual players, especially those who will be missing," said Advocaat.

    "The important thing is how the team responds to the challenge. We have done this (overcome suspended players) in the past and I hope we can do it again."

    The final pits Dutchman Advocaat against the club he managed for three and a half years between 1998 and 2002, winning two league titles with the Glasgow side.

    "I've said from the beginning that I would love to play Rangers in the final and it's great that it will happen," he said.

    Rangers talisman: Barry Ferguson
    Rangers go for glory on four fronts

    Rangers are bidding for the quadruple of Uefa Cup and three domestic trophies in a remarkable season that has already yielded one piece of silverware in the shape of the Scottish League Cup.

    But their quest for success on four fronts has caused a fixture pile-up which is fully testing the depth of Walter Smith's squad.

    Rangers have the Scottish title destiny in their own hands, they trail arch rivals Celtic by four points but will be crowned champions if they win their remaining three games, and their season will end with a Scottish Cup final appearance against Queen of the South on May 24.

    The foundations for their fine Uefa Cup run have been laid on a rock-solid defence that has conceded just two goals in eight matches since they parachuted into the competition after finishing third in their Champions League group.

    Rangers have knocked out Panathinaikos, Werder Bremen, Sporting and Fiorentina, in a penalty shootout, to reach the final, their first European showpiece since they lifted the Uefa Cup Winners' Cup in 1972.

    Rangers striker Daniel Cousin is banned following his dismissal in the semi-final second leg.

    Finally, Swedish referee Peter Frojdfeldt will take charge of the match with three countrymen as his assistants.

    Frojdfeldt will also officiate at next month's European Championship in Austria and Switzerland.

    For the Uefa Cup, he'll have Steffen Wittberg and Henrik Andren as his linesmen and Martin Ingvarsson as the fourth official.

    The 44-year-old Frojdfeldt refereed Liverpool's 4-2 Uefa Champions League quarterfinal win over Arsenal on April 8.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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