UEFA Cup 2007-08 FINAL – Zenit 2-0 Rangers: the Scottish Fort Surrenders to the Russian Armada

Three years after CSKA Moscow’s victory against Sporting, the UEFA Cup returns to Russia. To Saint Petersburg to be precise and into the trophy room of FC Zenit, who will be adding their first European cup to their club history record. At the City of Manchester stadium (home of Man City), the club sponsored by gas superpower Gazprom beat Rangers by 2-0, and prevented the Scottish team from returning to glory, 35 years after their Cup Winners’ Cup triumph in 1973.

There will be no “quadruple” for manager Walter Smith this year. but no result was ever more just that Wednesday night’s match. After Villareal, Marseille, Bayer Leverkusen, and Bayern Munich, the Russian Premier League champions got rid of Rangers as well, and by the looks of it that may not be their last European victim yet. UEFA Champions League teams beware…

As expected, this wasn’t exactly a match with great footy on the menu. Zenit may well have delighted neutral spectactors with their speed, technique and goalscoring abilities, when it came down to breaking up Rangers’ iron defense, their play was shall we say… blocked. Walter Smith’s 4-5-1 tactics (with Jean-claude Darcheville the only man not defending behind the ball) had done wonders to get Rangers to the final, so there was really no reason to change them for their most decisive match. The only thing that could have “unlocked” the monotony and ultra-tactical focus of the first half (a goal namely) didn’t arrive, and it wasn’t short of Tekke, Arshavin, and Fazyulin trying. The absence of UEFA Cup topscorer (tied with Luca Toni) Pavel Pogrebnyak was leaving a mark…

In the second period, same story: Zenit tryed to open things up, Rangers immediately closed them down. In minute 55 however, the Gers could have taken a surprising lead: Darcheville broke through the Zenit defense, and forced keeper Vyacheslav Malafeev to a save. The ball couldn’t be cleared, it landed to Barry Ferguson and eventually struck the post before going wide. Rangers’ big chance was followed by another shortly after (not quite as big) through Steven Whittaker, but the biggest of the match was reserved for Zenit (through the feet of talented Andrei Arshavin). Through on goal on the left wing, and skipping past Gers keeper Neil Alexander, the Russian winger couldn’t however shoot fast enough and allowed Saša Papac to clear his chipped shot on the line.

There was little Rangers could do in minute 72 though, as Igor Denisov broke through after a lovely passing exchange with Arshavin, and torpedoed Alexander with a low shot to his left. 1-0 Zenit, and decidedly not the ideal situation for Walter Smith, both tactically and psychologically. Indeed, not only was his team now forced to attack (uncommon) but they had less than 20 minutes to do so. Psychologically in particular, the shock was quite hard to absorb because Zenit could have doubled their lead, and only a few minutes after their first goal (Zyryanov receiving from Arshavin and hitting the post).

Smith then brought on strikers Lee McCulloch and Kris Boyd, and it almost looked as if Rangers could ring an equalizer (their biggest chance coming through Nacho Novo) right before the end of the match. Instead, Zenit put the final nail in the Gers’ coffin deep into stoppage time: Fatih Tekke got through on the left, applied a cushy cross for Konstantin Zyryanov who then only had to tap it in. 2-0 Zenit and game over. Dick Advocaat’s mission was accomplished: after bringing glory to Rangers for so many years, the Dutch manager had put Zenit on the top of Europe. One thing is for sure now though: no one will be underestimating the Russian team anymore…


 FC Zenit St. Petersburg ZENIT-RANGERS
[Match Highlights]
 Rangers F.C.
GOALSCORERS: 72’ Denisov (Z), 93’ Zyrianov (Z)
ZENIT (4-3-2-1): Malafeev – Anyukov, Shirokov, Krizanac, Sirl – Zyrianov, Tymoschuk, Denisov – Fayzulin (92’ Kim Dong) Arshavin – Tekke. (bench: Contofalsky, Radimov, Dominguez, Ricksen, Ionov, Gorshkov). Coach: Advocaat.
RANGERS (4-5-1): Alexander – Broadfoot, Cuellar, Weir, Papac (76’ Novo) – Davis, Hemdani (81’ McCulloch), B.Ferguson, Thomson, Whittaker (86’ Boyd) – Darcheville. (bench: G. Smith, Dailly, Faye, Adam). Coach: W.Smith.


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