UEFA Cup – Rangers broken-hearted in UEFA final
Igor Denisov’s 72nd-minute goal broke Rangers’ stubborn resistence as Zenit St Petersburg ground out a 2-0 victory in a predictably tight UEFA Cup final at the City of Manchester Stadium.
Denisov slotted past Neil Alexander with 18 minutes to go to break the hearts of Walter Smith’s men and the estimated 100,000 fans they brought down from Glasgow to Manchester.
Midfielder Konstatin Zurianov prodded home a second to seal the win with the last kick of the match.
Rangers were predictably cagey game until the hour mark as Dick Advocaat’s side struggled to find a way through the blue wall, but Zenit took advantage of the increasing space in the half-hour to grab the winner that makes them only the second Russian club to lift the trophy.
Rangers men had endured an epic journey which saw them play no fewer than 18 European games to come this far only to fall at the final hurdle at the hands of the Russian champions, denying the Scots their first European trophy for 36 years.
Contrary to all the pre-match hype, the match enjoyed an open start and both sides had early chances; first Andrei Arshavin shot the wrong side of the near after he was released down the left channel, before Jean Claude Darcheville opted to cross rather than shoot, Radek Shirl intercepting on his own six-yard line.
After their early chance, Rangers settled back as Zenit mounted some pressure on their goal, the Scots finding it difficult to maintain any decent possession as the Russian side harried and pressed in midfield.
But despite all their possession in the Rangers half, Zenit were unable to create any decent shooting opportunities as the blue wall did its job on the edge of the box, although the Russians were disappointed not to be awarded a penalty moments before the break when Arshavin’s cross hit the arm of Kirk Broadfoot.
Rangers were convinced they should have had a penalty of their own ten minutes into the second half. Darcheville’s first-time shot on the turn brought a fine save out of Vyacheslav Malafeev, and when Barry Ferguson pounced in on the rebound the ball bounced up and struck a Zenit arm – although the referee ruled the defender knew nothing about it.
As Rangers finally began to commit a few more players forward, Zenit also began to look more threatening and the Russians came within a whisker of taking the lead just after the hour-mark.
Alexander made a rash decision to come out of his goal as Arshavin chased a long punt upfield, and the signs looked good when the striker just nicked the ball away from the keeper – however, his chip goalwards from 20 yards was headed off the line by the retreating Sasa Papac.
However, the chance seemed to spark some renewed belief in Zenit and after a spell of pressure, they finally made the breakthrough with 18 minutes remaining.
Rangers were caught on the hop after they surrendered possession from their own throw just inside their half; the ever dangerous Arshavin got on the ball and ran at the heart of the Rangers defence before slipping a fine pass through to the run of Denisov, who finished calmly past Alexander.
Rangers boss Walter smith quickly sacrificed a defender for substitute striker Nacho Novo, although Zenit had an immediate chance to double the lead moments later, midfielder Zurianov screwing a shot wide after a low cross found its way through to him at the far post.
Novo almost grabbed Rangers a last-gasp equaliser, but he prodded over the crossbar from eight yards out after Ferguson’s long throw bounced through to him at the back post.
And Zurianov made sure of the victory when he burst into the box to bundle home Tekke’s low cross after the Turkish striker had been released again by the brilliant Arshavin.
Alex Sharratt / Eurosport