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Zenit too strong for Rangers
May 15th, 2008 7AM



[UEFA CUP] Nothing -- not a midnight prank that robbed them of a good night's sleep, the specter of Glasgow Rangers' manager Walter Smith's past close calls or the relatively unknown reputation of their club - could prevent Zenit St. Petersburg players from completing a remarkable run in the UEFA Cup by lifting the trophy.

Igor Denisov broke open a goalless game in the 72nd minute at a packed, rowdy City of Manchester Stadium, and Konstantin Zyrianov tallied in stoppage time to bring Zenit a 2-0 victory and pair up a second Russian title in the past three years. CSKA Moscow won the 2005 edition.

"Winning a prize like this does not come often in your life," said Zenit's Dutch coach, Dick Advocaat, who had replaced Smith at Rangers a decade ago after an initial stint ended in 1998. "We are very proud that Zenit won tonight and after the way we played in this tournament, we really deserved it."

Zenit, the defending Russian champion, reached the final by demolishing Bayern Munich, 4-0, in the semifinal home leg to go through, 5-1, on aggregate. In contrast to the rampaging Zenit style, Rangers reached the final by conceding just two goals in its eight games after being eliminated in the group phase of the Champions League. It had squeezed past Fiorentina on penalties, 4-2, in the semis following 210 minutes of goalless play.

Rangers contested the final in the midst of a staggering burden of league games and cup matches, both international and domestic. Russian officials juggled the league schedule to permit Zenit a weekend of rest prior to the final, but Scottish Premier League executives, who did push the back the end of the league program, weren't as accommodating.

Sportingly, Smith refused to cite the heavy load of matches, though his team visibly sagged but never stopped running as Zenit hit the post and finally scored in the second half. Rangers, which played its 64th match Wednesday, still has three league matches to play as it chases leader Glasgow Celtic, and meets Queen of the South in the Scottish Cup final May 24.

"I don't think that had any influence on the result," Smith said. "The players tonight were ready to play and we were just coming into the match when they scored and that first goal changed the whole complexion of the game."

Rangers hadn't won a European trophy since 1972 and kept pace with Zenit for most of the first half. But the technical superiority and greater energy of Zenit were rewarded when Andrei Arshavin and Desinov worked a cool give-and-go to provide the latter with an uncontested shot he crisply converted past helpless keeper Neal Alexander.
Four minutes into stoppage time, Zyrianov ran onto a long clearance to tuck away the clincher.

Skirmishes between rival fans broke out in the city center, where thousands had gathered to watch the match. Police had to move in after fights broke out when a video screen went dark. Thirty fans were arrested during the evening, and police reported that a Russian fan was stabbed in the back after the match. He was taken to a local hospital.

Tens of thousands of Rangers fans descended on the city without tickets but most were well behaved. In a statement, the Greater Manchester Police (GMP) said, "GMP would like to stress the vast majority of supporters have behaved impeccably and came to Manchester clearly intent on enjoying the carnival atmosphere."

Three Rangers fans were detained after they set off the fire alarm at midnight in the Russian team's hotel.

"At 12 o'clock, the alarm went off, everyone ran out of their rooms, we thought we were on fire," a smiling Vyacheslav Malafeev told reporters while he clutched the large UEFA Cup trophy. I am glad we won the trophy for St Petersburg and also for the whole country."


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