Russia and the Zenit connection

Seven Zenit St. Petersburg players were part of a Russian team who looked impressive during their Euro 2012 opener.

    Russia and the Zenit connection
    Advocaat masterminded UEFA Cup success with Zenit St. Petersburg and now looks for glory with Russia [AFP]

    Although CSKA Moscow forward Alan Dzagoev grabbed the headlines with his two goals against the Czech Republic, it's the seven Zenit St. Petersburg players that laid the foundations for Russia's victory.

    From goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev to scorer Roman Shirokov, the St.Petersburg club was all over the field during their European Championship opener at the Municipal Stadium in Wroclaw.

    "Roman Shirokov scored and Andrei Arshavin and Aleksandr Kerzhakov picked up assists to lead Russia to a resounding 4-1 victory over the Czech Republic,'' the club wrote on their website on Saturday.

    And the Zenit connection doesn't end on the field: Russia coach Dick Advocaat led the team from to the UEFA Cup in 2008.

    That victory over Scottish club Rangers in the final was the launch pad for Arshavin's career. He was one of five Zenit players in Russia's run to the Euro 2008 semifinals and was one of the stars of the tournament despite being suspended for the first two matches.

    And on the evidence of his dominating play in Friday's win, he appears to be poised to mastermind another successful Russian campaign four years later.

    Reaping rewards

    Advocaat is reaping what he sowed at Zenit. He joined in 2006 after Russian energy giant Gazprom began pumping millions into the club, turning the perennial underachiever into a constant contender.

    Zenit won their first league title the next season and followed it a year later with their UEFA Cup win with a team that included Arshavin, Malafeev, Shirokov, Konstantin Zyryanov and defender Aleksandr Anyukov - all of whom played on Friday.

    "I thought he played very good football, but he forgot to score"

    Russia boss Dick Advocaat on Zenit striker Kerzhakov

    Arshavin, Shirokov and Zyryanov, along with Kerzhakov, exchanged fluent passes and seemed able to anticipate one another's runs all night.

    "Most of this team has played a lot together and been successful together,'' Advocaat said.

    Kerzhakov has been one of Russia's most dangerous forwards in recent matches, but missed several good chances against the Czechs before being replaced by Locomotiv Moscow forward Roman Pavlyuchenko, who promptly set up Dzagoev's second goal and scored a brilliant solo effort.

    But Advocaat said he would stand by the Zenit striker.

    "I would pick Kerzhakov again,'' the Dutchman said.

    "I thought he played very good football, but he forgot to score.''



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