Zenit St Petersburg clinch UEFA Cup

Manchester, May 15:

Russia is becoming a growing force in European club soccer. Zenit St Petersburg won their first European trop hy - and Russia’s second - by beating Rangers 2-0 in the UEFA Cup final on Wednesday. Three years ago, CSKA Moscow won the UEFA Cup to become the first Russian team to earn a European honour.

On Wednesday, Igor Denisov scored the first goal in the 72nd minute after playing a one-two with Andrei Arshavin and cutting through the Rangers defense before beating goalkeeper Neil Alexander. Konstantin Zyryanov added the second in injury time, tapping the ball over the line off a pass from Fatih Tekke.

Denisov escaped being penalised for a handball early in the second half. Rangers defender Kirk Broadfoot also escaped punishment for an alleged handball incident late in the first half. The match was marred by violence in downtown Manchester, where more than 100,000 ticketless Rangers fans mingled before watching the final on giant screens.

Police and fans clashed when one screen broke down 15 minutes before kickoff. Several fans and police were injured in the resulting skirmish, but none seriously. Forty two people were arrested for various offenses, including six Rangers’ fans in relation to the stabbing of a Russian supporter outside the City of Manchester Stadium before the game. Police said he had non-life threatening injuries.

Back in the stadium, Zenit coach Dick Advocaat, who led Rangers from 1998-2002, won his first European title with the victory. “I feel very happy winning the prize like this,” Advocaat said.

The well-traveled Advocaat transformed Zenit since joining in 2006. This past season the Dutchman led Zenit to their first Russian league title, meaning the club will play in the European Champions League next season. Zenit eliminated Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen on the way to the final and also have significant support to build on their success.

It’s owned by Russian natural gas giant Gazprom and have fans in high places, most notably former Russian prime minister Viktor Zubkov who celebrated with the players after the match in the locker room. New Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, who like his predecessor Vladimir Putin, is from St Petersburg and also is a fan. Rangers won their only European trophy in 1972, beating Dynamo Moscow in the defunct Cup Winners’ Cup.