Zenit St. Petersburg celebrate title as Gazprom looks to future

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Zenit St. Petersburg claimed their first championship title in post-Soviet Russia on Sunday, sparking wild scenes of celebration in the country's one-time capital.
ST. PETERSBURG, November 11 (RIA Novosti) - Zenit St. Petersburg claimed their first championship title in post-Soviet Russia on Sunday, sparking wild scenes of celebration in the country's one-time capital.

"We have waited 23 years for this and now we can say 'Zenit are the champions!'" said the city's governor, Valentina Matviyenko, as the victorious side greeted fans at the club's Petrovsky Stadium. Zenit's only previous title was in the Soviet era, in 1984, when the city was still known as Leningrad.

Zenit overcame Spartak Moscow in a nail-biting race for the title that lasted until the final day of the season, ending the capital's 11 year domination of Russian soccer. Zenit defeated Saturn FC of the Moscow Region on Sunday to claim the championship. Spartak Moscow finished second, and CSKA Moscow, last year's champions, third.

Russian gas giant Gazprom bought a controlling stake in Zenit in 2005, and immediately set about buying up top players, both Russian and foreign, leading many Russians to dub the side "the Russian Chelsea." Gazprom also brought in respected Dutch coach, Dick Advocaat, in 2006. Although the wages on offer by Zenit are high even by European standards, the club still has trouble attracting real world stars to Russia.

"Today is a historic day for St. Petersburg soccer," Gazprom chief, Alexei Miller, told journalists at the city's Pulkovo airport as fans gathered to greet the team on their homecoming.

"This is just the beginning," he went on. "The time has come to write a new chapter in the history of St. Petersburg soccer. The capital of Russian soccer has made a move to St. Petersburg."

"We held out for a deserved victory," said Dick Advocaat, after the game. "Of course, we were a bit nervy, but that was understandable, the match was so vital".

Zenit have the most fanatical and loyal fans in Russia, and the aftermath of the long-awaited victory saw 97 arrests in Russia's second city, as supporters celebrated their side's triumph in the city's metro stations, drinking, and smashing escalators and chandeliers.

The St. Petersburg club's title victory earned them an automatic place in next season's Champions League group stage, where they will have a chance to test their strength against the giants of European soccer.

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