Zenit Banks On Attacking Flair

LONDON -- Zenit St. Petersburg chases its first European trophy when the free-scoring Russian champion take on Rangers in Wednesday's UEFA Cup final at the City of Manchester stadium.

Zenit, bidding to become the second Russian side in four seasons to lift the trophy, after CSKA Moscow's success in 2005, has produced some memorable performances en route to its first European final.

The Russians overcame Villarreal and Olympique Marseille in the early knockout rounds, before making the rest of Europe sit up with a 4-1 quarterfinal, first-leg demolition of Bayer Leverkusen in Germany.

Then, in the semis, Zenit held Bayern Munich at home, before stunning the four-time European champion with a 4-0 rout in the return.

Zenit coach Dick Advocaat said the UEFA Cup final was the most important game of the season for his club.

"After we beat Bayern, I told [the players], if you play like you did against the Germans you have a good chance of winning the trophy," the Dutchman said.

Zenit will be without Russia striker Pavel Pogrebnyak, the competition's joint top-scorer with 10 goals, who is suspended but welcomes back influential playmaker Andrei Arshavin, who missed the second leg of the semifinal.

"I don't like to talk about individual players, especially those who will be missing," Advocaat said. "The important thing is how the team responds to the challenge. We have [overcome suspended players] in the past, and I hope we can do it again."

The final pits Advocaat against the club he managed for three and a half years between 1998 and 2002, winning two league titles with the Glasgow side.

"I've said from the beginning that I would love to play Rangers in the final, and it's great that it will happen," he said.

Rangers is bidding for the quadruple of UEFA Cup and three domestic trophies in a remarkable season that has already yielded the Scottish League Cup.

But its bid for success on four fronts has caused a fixture pile-up that is fully testing Walter Smith's squad.

Rangers trails arch rival Celtic by four points in the tile race, but will be crowned champion if it wins its remaining three games, and its season will end with a Scottish Cup final appearance against Queen of the South on May 24.

The foundations for the team's fine UEFA Cup run have been laid on a rock-solid defense that has conceded just two goals in eight matches since it parachuted into the competition after finishing third in its Champions League group.

Rangers have knocked out Panathinaikos, Werder Bremen, Sporting and Fiorentina, in a penalty shootout, to reach the final, the team's first European final since lifting the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup in 1972.