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Zenit find way past Rangers’ defense to lift UEFA Cup

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Zenit St. Petersburg won the UEFA Cup for the first time in their history on Wednesday evening, goals by midfielders Igor Denisov and Konstantin Zyryanov breaking a solid Glasgow Rangers' defense.

MANCHESTER, May 15 (RIA Novosti) - Zenit St. Petersburg won the UEFA Cup for the first time in their history on Wednesday evening, goals by midfielders Igor Denisov and Konstantin Zyryanov breaking a solid Glasgow Rangers' defense.

The first half of the match ended goalless as Zenit sought in vain to find a way through a negative Rangers' side that had only conceded two goals in their previous eight UEFA Cup matches, Andrei Arshavin and Alexander Anyukov going close. Zenit also had a penalty appeal turned down on the stroke of the break after the Swedish referee turned a blind eye to a clear handball in the Ranger's box.

However, Zenit, bankrolled by Russian energy giant Gazprom, were not to be denied, and their pressure eventually paid off in the 72nd minute when Man-of-the-Match Arshavin threaded through a perfect pass for Denisov to calmly slot home. Rangers tried to come forward, but Zenit held strong, and in the last seconds of injury time, a swift combination of passes left Zyryanov free to poke the ball into the net. That was the last kick of the match.

"It's a big step forward," said an overwhelmed Anatoly Timoshchuk immediately after the final whistle. "We played our own soccer," he added, before the side were presented with the UEFA Cup, Arshavin with his young child on his shoulders.

Some 100,000 Scottish fans had flooded into Manchester to support their side, the vast majority of them watching the game on screens around the city. Around 13,000 Zenit fans, including Valentina Matviyenko, the St. Petersburg governor, were in the stadium to cheer on the 2007 Russian champions.

"The Russian fans have been a lot better behaved than the Scottish supporters," said Vitaly Mutko, Russia's newly appointed sports minister, before the game. There were reports of a number of arrests before the kick-off, but Manchester police declined to reveal the nationalities of those detained.

Zenit are only the second Russian side to lift a European trophy after CSKA's 2005 UEFA Cup victory.

"The 2005 CSKA victory was something of a false dawn for Russian football," said Marc Bennetts, the British author of the recently released ‘Football Dynamo' about Russia and its national sport. "Zenit could go on now to challenge for the Champions League," he added, pointing out that investment in the Russian game was at an all time high.

"We didn't bring any champagne with us," said a calm Arshavin after the game, "but if there is any in the stadium we've asked them to bring it to us."

St. Petersburg looked set to party until dawn.

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