Rubin Kazan Win Second Straight Russian Title, Zenit Cling to Third
Exactly 25 years ago to the date, Zenit St. Petersburg claimed the club's first ever Soviet First Division crown.
But on the anniversary of that historical date, Zenit once again was able to witness a trophy presentation. Except it wasn't captain Aleksandr Anyukov lifting the Holy Grail of Russian football, it was their worthy opponents in Rubin Kazan.
In late July, the two sides played to a wildly entertaining 0-0 draw at the Petrovsky Stadium in St. Petersburg. Zenit, who saw Georgian defender Dato Kvirkvelia take two consecutive yellow cards in a matter of five minutes, pushed for the winning goal nearly the entire second half.
Then-manager Dick Advocaat threw everything forward, but his men were unable to find the golden touch.
But the new-look Zenit, now led by former defensive midfielder Anatoliy Davydov, found themselves out of title contention after a draw with cellar dwellers Spartak Nalchik and a loss in the snow to FC Moscow. Although they were not able to win the Russian title, a spot in the Champions League was still up for the taking.
For the second meeting, neither team was at full strength.
Zenit was missing half of the back line, with Dong-jin Kim unavailable and Fernando Meira still making a recovery. Rubin would not have the services of Argentinian striker Alejandro Dominguez, who was restrained from the pitch due to his contract.
Although the first half of play was a bit sloppy at times, the play and tempers picked up just before halftime. Zenit keeper Vyacheslav Malafeev came out of his cage to win a ball away from Rubin leading scorer Alexander Bukharov, but in doing so, also caught him in the neck with a spike. Appropriately awarded a yellow, but the two sides swapped words in the process.
It all exploded just before the whistle.
Zenit striker Fatih Tekke thought he won a ball from Rubin captain Sergei Semak, but Semak didn't see it the same way. And when Tekke held the ball away from him, the pushing and shoving started.
All 22 players converged outside the Rubin box for an exchange of pleasantries. When the dust settled, Tekke as well as Anyukov and Kazan center-back Roman Sharonov were awarded cards.
In the second half, Kurban Berdiyev came out with a different, but intelligent plan. Knowing well that four different Zenit players were carrying the baggage of a card, his marching orders were quite simple—drive right at Zenit defenders.
With the addition of Petr Bystrov (no relation to the speedy Zenit winger), Rubin began putting on a demonstration of how to win free kicks but make a mess of their execution.
In a matter of 10 minutes to follow the restart, Berdiyev's men earned five free kicks from just outside the box. But each time, they were unable to challenge Malafeev despite having a shot from a very promising position.
Rubin was carrying the vast majority of the play, with 65 percent of possession time. But Zenit was still finding ways to navigate through their normally stout defense. The only thing that was missing was a finish.
Davydov made a very puzzling substitution as Rubin began turning up the pressure. He chose to remove striker Mateja Kezman, who was having a quietly solid match, in favor of Igor Semshov .
It has nothing to do with Semshov. He has proved to be a far better option when coming off the bench as a substitute. But why not take off the already carded and completely ineffective Tekke? Nearly every time he had touched the ball, it resulted in a Kazan defender swiping the ball from him.
As the match pushed on, Rubin was begging for a goal. After a rather reckless challenge by Konstantin Zyryanov, Rubin had more corner kicks. Except every time Christian Ansaldi attempted his corner, the ball never failed to find Zyryanov. Three consecutive times, Zyryanov simply just dumped the ball away without Rubin even having a play on it.
After a now-patented 90th-minute substitution by Davydov, the celebration was on in Kazan even though the game ended scoreless.
A few minutes earlier, news had reached the Central Stadium that CSKA Moscow defeated in-city archrival Spartak. CSKA striker Tomas Necid gunned the Army Men through 3-2, officially ended Spartak's dream of capturing the title.
For Rubin Kazan, the title is their second in seven years of competing in the Russian Premier League.
For Zenit, the Blue-White-Sky Blues sit on 51 points and in 3rd place, thanks to goal differential over Lokomotiv Moscow. But in order to qualify for the Champions League, the schedule does them absolutely no favors. With one matchday left, they must host the league runner-up Spartak in St. Petersburg. Meanwhile, Lokomotiv heads to Khimki, a relegation side that has lost 14 straight matches and hasn't earned a point since July.
But if there is any comforting factor, is that Khimki earned a rare draw at Lokomotiv Stadium on the first matchday of the season, a venue where the Engine has been nearly unstoppable.
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