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Zenit St Petersburg

Russian champions bar Reds’ path to final

Zenit St. Petersburg rate as the aspiring giants of Russian football. The club which numbers President-elect Dmitry Medvedev among its supporters are the reigning Russian champions and recently added the domestic Supercup to their collection, although they have only won the league title on two occasions in total.

However, four games into the new Russian season, the team coached by former Monchengladbach boss Dick Advocaat lie a disappointing ninth in the 16-team top flight with five points from four matches, although Zenit’s strength and ability has just proved too much for Bayern’s league rivals Bayer 04 Leverkusen in the UEFA Cup quarter-finals.

Starring role for Arshavin

The Russians travelled to the Rhineland for the first leg and ruthlessly punished the home team on the break to register a 4-1 triumph. The best man on the park was Andrei Arshavin, Zenit’s biggest name and 2006 Russian Player of the Year.

Bayer recovered some of their pride and won Thursday’s return in St. Petersburg by the only goal of the game, but the Bayern observers at the Petrovsky Stadium will not have failed to note the home side’s menace in attack. The brains and creativity in the team are supplied by Ukraine playmaker and club captain Anatoliy Tymoschuk. “He could easily have played in Italy or Spain,“ Leverkusen Director of Sport Rudi Völler commented before the quarter-final second leg.

Record books offer hope

Founded in 1925 and making an eighth foray into the UEFA Cup, the men from St. Petersburg have generally come off worse against German teams until the recent Leverkusen tie. In December 2004, Zenit managed no better than a 2-2 draw with second division Alemannia Aachen at the group stage and were eliminated, while Dynamo Dresden put paid to the Russians’ hopes back in 1981-2. Bayern represent the fourth and on paper most challenging German opponents so far.