Friday, May 16, 2008

Justice for the team that came to play

Uefa Cup Final wrap, Zenit St Petersburg 2 v Glasgow Rangers 0

JUST as a follow-up to my earlier piece today, critiquing the lack of team goals in Fox Sports's selection of the 20 outstanding goals of season 2007/08, another classic recent example came in yesterday's Uefa Cup final with the last kick of the game.

It was an absolute peach, with Zenit's impressive playmaker Andrei Arshavin involved twice. Check out the six-pass move here. As a regular TRBA reader from Melbourne noted today via email, it involved some "super movement and one-and-two-touch play and completely carved open the Rangers defence".

Indeed, the movement and passing from Zenit was the feature throughout their Uefa Cup run, and while they struggled to break down the dogged and determined blue brick wall of nine men parked behind the ball, they were eventually able to crack it thanks to some wonderful drive off the ball from one of the men of the match, Igor Denisov.

His desire to pick up a loose ball in midfield, knock it to Arshavin, and then drive through the heart of the Rangers defence, between Carlos Cuellar and David Weir, was rewarded with a superbly weighted ball from the Russian international. Top shelf. Keep an eye out for Arshavin at Euro 2008.

The other player to really make an impression with his mobility out of central midfielder was the final goal-scorer, Kostantin Zyrianov. He was everywhere. Not far behind Arshavin, Denisov and Zyrianov was the Zenit left-back Radek Sirl, who might still make his way into Karol Bruckner's Czech Republic Euro 2008 squad.

Overall, while there were a couple of dicey moments in their own box, this was a disciplined and controlled performance from the Russians, proving that these ties are often won or lost between the ears.

Rangers, as they have done throughout the campaign, especially against Fiorentina in the semis, set their stall out to defend for 120 minutes, and the battle for the Russians was to not lose control.

Russians and Russian sides, particularly over the past couple of decades, have had a reputation for melting on the big occasion, but clearly the work of the Dutchmen, Dick Advocaat here, and Guus Hiddink for the national team, are having a massive impact, as they did in South Korea, as they are doing down-under.

Anyway, in the battle of wits, the Zenit players didn't lose their control or composure, and got their reward.

While it's a credit to Rangers for getting as far as they did, it was really hard to fell sorry for a side that crowded the midfield with five defensive minded workhorses and left Nacho Novo on the bench.

In an age where it doesn't always happen, great to see justice for the team that came to play.


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