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UEFA Cup Final:Zenit St Petersburg v Glasgow Rangers
The Uefa Cup final has thrown up an intriguing battle of styles and peculiarities that are going to make an interesting match. The high scoring free-flowing football of Zenit St. Petersburg will be up against the all defence, send your opponent to sleep approach of Glasgow Rangers.
A further twist is given by the fact that Zenit are managed by Dick Advocaat, an ex manager of the Govan based club.
Attacking Football versus Defensive Football
Zenit reached the final by knocking out the pre-tournament favourites Bayern Munich 5-1 on aggregate including an impressive 4-0 home victory. There is no doubt that Bayern were keen to land the Uefa Cup which makes the Russian teams progress even more impressive. The club will be slightly hampered with the suspension of top scorer Pavel Pogrebnyak from the final but will still take great confidence from their semi final triumph.
Conversely, Rangers have made it to the final by being extremely hard to beat. There has been none of the attacking style and vigour displayed by Zenit but a victory on penalties or away goals rule is still a victory. The semi final may have been a drab and dour affair and although Fiorentina dominated proceedings, they never looked like scoring.
Like Zenit, Rangers will be without one of their forwards for the final. Daniel Cousin received a second yellow in the semi-final for head-butting a Fiorentina defender. Given the paucity of goals from his side throughout the tournament, Cousin is one of Rangers' top scorers with the high tally of 1 goal. Even at that, his solitary goal was practically thrown into the net by Werder Bremen’s goalkeeper. There is no doubt that Rangers have received a lot of luck en route to the final but there will be some who say that you make your own luck in football.
Off the field, there is a lot of intriguing subplots to the final as well. On one hand, Zenit St Petersburg have had their league matches prior to the final cancelled to allow them maximum preparation time for the match. This has been helped by the fact the team are only six games into their season which has afforded them some leeway.
In contrast, Rangers are nearing the end of their season and need to play a few games in a short space of time. It appears that Rangers aren't too happy at this state of affairs but the club played a part in this predicament. Rangers had a league match postponed to allow them preparation time to face Lyon in the Champions League.
In the end, this time off did not benefit them as they lost 3-0 at home to the French champions.
Supporters' Shame as Uefa Investigations Have Shown
It must also be said that there are genuine concerns over the conduct of both fans in the final and it is going to be hard for neutrals to pick a team to support.
Uefa has long been an advocate of fair play and good behaviour and recent activities may offer some problems to the ruling body.
Both finalists have had serious Uefa investigations into the conduct of their supporters with Zenit having a serious charge hanging over them at the moment. Dick Advocaat, the Zenit St Petersburg manager has been quoted in the UK press as saying that he would be unable to sign a black player as the fans of the club would not tolerate this. This is a worrying state of affairs and it is hoped the relevant authorities will be able to crack down on this if it is true.
That said it is not as if the Rangers fans are any better. Most fans who reach the final of a European tournament would be singing songs to celebrate the fact but this appears to have bypassed the Rangers fans. Their current songbook is focused on singing about the Irish famine, which caused the death of a million people and forced another million to leave the country in search of food. It's scandalous in this day and age that football fans can take such pleasure and enjoyment in the horror and deaths of others but it is clearly something the authorities need to be aware of.
With other songs about besmirching the name of the national teams best- ever manager and religious battles that date back thousands of years, there are genuine concerns that this final will be remembered for all the wrong reasons. Still, these issues aside, any neutral looking for a team to back in the final would be well advised to focus on the footballing styles of the clubs as opposed to the extra curricular events of both fans.
Hopefully The Focus Will Be On Football
If the football is allowed to be the key focus of the final, then the Manchester event could stand as a spectacle for football with opinions split on how the final may pan out. There is no doubt that after defeating Bayern Munich, Zenit St Petersburg should have no fears about coming up against Rangers. If the Russians can play their usual game and obtain an early lead, they should be able to gain control of the match and win the trophy.
Conversely, if Rangers can line up in their usual 4-5-1 formation and prevent the Russians from attacking them freely, they will have every chance to steal the tie. If Rangers can keep the game goal-less for the first hour, they will likely find an opportunity to take the lead. Their entire European campaign has proved that they are capable of holding out and then effectively hitting on the break and there is no reason why the final should be any different.
It’s Not The Champions League But It Is A Trophy
The Uefa Cup is the least important of the European trophies and since the group stages were introduced, the tournament has become a sham. The Champions League is the key club football event in Europe but the Uefa Cup is the best that many teams can hope for. No doubt this year's final will provide the pinnacle of European football for the two clubs involved and whoever wins it will provide their fans with a whole lot of positive memories.
Many neutrals will no doubt have their favourite and the contrasting styles of football on offer will offer up a unique footballing spectacle. The 2008 Uefa Cup final promises to offer observers a study into attacking football versus defensive football and the winner is looking pretty hard to predict.
By Andrew Reilly
for The Silver Circle at www.footballtip.co.uk
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