Zenit Puts Russian Football on a High

APThe Zenit squad posing with the UEFA Cup trophy after beating Glasgow Rangers 2-0 in Wednesday's final at the City of Manchester Stadium in Manchester.
MANCHESTER, England -- Dick Advocaat hopes Zenit St. Petersburg's UEFA Cup triumph will kickstart a revolution in Russian club football.

Advocaat led Zenit to its first European title at its first attempt Wednesday in a 2-0 win over Rangers at the City of Manchester Stadium, off goals from Igor Denisov and Konstantin Zyryanov.

"Hopefully it's the start for Russian football, to start to build new stadiums, pitches and facilities for the kids," Dutchman Advocaat said.

"The money is there, so hopefully this prize must give them the feeling that if there is good organization at the club, they can also be on the path for Europe.

"Otherwise it will be incidental."

Three years ago, CSKA Moscow won the UEFA Cup title to become the first Russian team to earn a European honor.

"I'm delighted for a huge country that in the last three years has been waiting for a good prize," Zenit striker Andrei Arshavin said. "It's great for the country."

Arshavin is one of six Zenit players named in the provisional Russia squad for the European Championship.

Former Russian prime minister Viktor Zubkov -- who was replaced by Vladimir Putin last week -- celebrated with the players after the match in the locker room. And Putin himself called Advocaat after the match.

Recently-inaugurated Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, who like his predecessor Putin is from St. Petersburg, is also a fan.

The well-traveled Advocaat has transformed Zenit since joining in 2006 -- last season he led Zenit to its first Russian league title, meaning the club will play in the Champions League next season.

Advocaat is mindful that Zenit will need to hold onto its top assets if it is to compete in the Champions League, with Europe's top clubs ready to prize away top assets like Arshavin.

"It will be a problem now. There is no doubt that some players will go," Dutchman Advocaat said.

"Then you have to start again. That's a problem when you become successful. We must keep not only Arshavin, but other important players.

Advocaat said the sale of Slovakia defender Martin Skrtel was a case in point.

Skrtel, an important part of Zenit's run to the Russian championship, joined Liverpool in January and has impressed for the Premier League side in the second half of the season.

"Those kind of players, you have to keep," said Advocaat, who plans to add to his squad before Zenit make their Champions League debut in September.

"You have to try and keep this team together and buy three or four other players to make the squad better, then you can rotate in the different competitions," he said. "At the moment with Zenit it is 12, 13, 14 players who have played in all the games."

Holding on to Arshavin could be tricky for Zenit, with the Russian playmaker producing another elegant performance on Wednesday to showcase his considerable talents.

Arshavin, 26, is also an important part of the Russian national side but he may only get the chance to play one game in Euro 2008, depending on how Guus Hiddink's side fare.

Arshavin was sent off in the last qualifier against Andorra and misses the first two Group D games in the June finals against Spain and holder Greece.

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

"We controlled the game from the very beginning," Arshavin said through a translator. "We attacked more. When we were successful against our opponent's goal, I knew we would win."

Denisov had escaped being penalized 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.

Advocaat, who coached Rangers from 1998-2002, won his first European title with the victory. He leapt in the air at the final whistle.

"I feel very happy winning the prize like this," Advocaat said. "That doesn't come very often in life. The way we played in this tournament, we really deserved this."

Rangers manager Walter Smith, meanwhile, bracketed Zenit at the same level as the sides his team had faced in the Champions League earlier this season.

"Barcelona are excellent, but after that Zenit are on a par with other sides we had -- Lyon and Stuttgart. They are at that level."

AP, Reuters