MOSCOW, May 8 (R-Sport) - Anzhi Makhachkala are one game away from their first major trophy after withstanding a Zenit St. Petersburg onslaught to win 1-0 and take a place in the Russian Cup final.
After a largely disappointing season in which their domestic league and Europa League title challenges sputtered out, Anzhi could turn owner Suleiman Kerimov’s millions into silverware when they face CSKA Moscow in the final in Grozny on June 1.
Anzhi’s only previous Cup final came in 2001 with a defeat on penalties to Lokomotiv Moscow.
"It was a very intense game. I'm very happy with how my team played, I am very proud of the lads and very proud that we reached the final," Anzhi manager Guus Hiddink said. "We scored a very good goal and for us to go to the final is a very big success."
Zenit dominated Wednesday’s match but it was Anzhi’s talismanic striker Samuel Eto’o who made the difference, striking a low shot from the edge of the box on 61 minutes that deceived Zenit goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev.
The victory was slightly soured on 90 minutes when Eto’o was stretchered off the pitch injured.
The Cameroonian’s strike was one of two Zenit goal all game, compared to the 12 faced by beleaguered Anzhi goalkeeper Vladimir Gabulov, who was heroic to repeatedly deny Zenit’s €40 million signing Hulk.
The Brazilian had a penalty appeal turned down in the first half when he fell in the box in a challenge with Anzhi's Ewerthon, who was injured. Zenit manager Luciano Spalletti suggested referee Sergei Karasyov had been pressured to let Anzhi win.
"Sergei is like a student who comes home and does homework that the teacher gives him. Sergei had the task of coming here and running the match in this way," he said.
The first half was almost all Zenit, who did everything but score as Hulk hit the bar, fellow star signing Axel Witsel fired over from close range and Anzhi defender Rasim Tagirbekov denied Hulk by deflected his shot wide with a desperate lunge.
Shortly before the break, Eto’o found the net at a corner but it was ruled out for a clear offside.
After Eto’o scored, Zenit laid siege to the Anzhi goal again. Alexander Kerzhakov hit a promising effort over the bar and Gabulov showed good reaction to stop Hulk on 88 minutes.
Anzhi could have wrapped up the game in stoppage time, but Malafeev proved equal to midfielder Mbark Boussoufa’s attempts to nutmeg him. That allowed Zenit to go up the other end, while winger Miguel Danny sliced narrowly wide in the hosts’ last chance to take the game to extra time.
CSKA booked their place in the final with a 2-0 extra-time win over FC Rostov on Tuesday. The Moscow team will be looking to lift the Cup for the fourth time in six years.