Who are Zenit?

We take a look at Rangers' Uefa Cup final opponents

Last updated: 14th May 2008  

Who are Zenit?

Tymoschuk: Club captain.

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Zenit St Petersburg are all that stand between Rangers and Uefa Cup glory in Manchester next week.

But what exactly do we know about this unknown quantity from the eastern brink of Europe that suddenly made the rest of the continent sit up and take notice?

Here, skysports.com looks at Rangers' opponents:

Zenit is a club that have come a very long way in very little time.

Now funded by gas giants Gazprom and led by Dutch maestro Dick Advocaat, the change that has come over the club in recent years has been radical.

During Soviet times Zenit were an unremarkable outfit, permanently nestled in the middle reaches of the Soviet Super League, which they finally won in 1984 after 50 years of trying.

But with the collapse of the Soviet Union came relegation and obscurity, and it was not until 1996 that Zenit returned from the wilderness to a new, considerably weaker Russian league being dominated by their fiercest rivals, Spartak Moscow.

A Russian Cup success in 1999 added to their modest trophy collection, and the club gradually edged into contention in the league, finishing third in 2001 and second in 2003.

But the real turning point - Zenit's very own Russian revolution - came in 2005 with the arrival on the scene of Gazprom.

The gas giants bought a majority stake in the club and have invested millions to transform Zenit into the powerhouse of Russian football.

Ambition

And the first clear statement of intent and sign of the club's ambition came in July 2006 when Zenit appointed Dutch specialist Advocaat as head coach in place of Czech coach Vlastimil Petrzhela, who was fired despite leading the club to the Uefa Cup quarter-finals that season.

Advocaat did not get off to the best of starts, drawing his first three games in charge 0-0 and only managing fourth place come the season end.

Advocaat's success however came the following year in leading Zenit to their first ever Russian title, earning him hero status among the people of St Petersburg delighted at finally tearing the trophy from the clutches of the dominant Moscow clubs.

The Dutchman took time however to win over the dressing room and has proved a controversial figure at times, not least by allowing local hero Alexander Kerzhakov to leave for Sevilla in December 2006 and at one point demoting Andrei Arshavin, Alexander Anyukov and Igor Denisov to the reserves for breaching club discipline.

Advocaat does not come cheap - he reportedly earns 2million a year since turning his back on Australia and extending his contract with Zenit following last season's league victory - but the Dutchman is not the only example of Zenit splashing the cash.

In February 2007 Zenit smashed the Russian transfer record by paying Shakhtar Donetsk a cool 20 million euros for Ukraine midfielder Anatoliy Tymoschuk, who has since been made club captain.

Capture

A further seven million euros was used to capture Argentinian striker Alejandro Domingues from Rubin Kazan, whilst striker Arshavin is now reportedly the highest-paid player in the Russian league.

Furthermore Gazprom are also funding a new 62,000-capacity arena to be built on the site of the old Kirov Stadium, which is due for completion in 2010 and is expected to cost around 280million.

Gazprom's massive investment has at least been partly justified by Zenit's successes on both the domestic and European front.

In addition to next week's Uefa Cup final, Zenit will be pitting their wits against Europe's finest in next season's Champions League thanks to their 2007 title win, with Russian teams earning a direct entry into the group stage for the first time.

Rangers are not the first British club to lock horns with Zenit in European competition in recent years.

Bradford fans will recall an Intertoto Cup encounter with Zenit back in 2000, which the Russian side won 4-0 on aggregate, whilst in the 2005-06 UEFA Cup Zenit journeyed to the Reebok Stadium to face Bolton en route to the quarter-finals, losing out to eventual winners Sevilla.

Walter Smith may also want to consult with fellow Scot David Moyes on how to undo Zenit.

Everton beat Zenit in the group stages of this season's competition 1-0 at Goodison Park, whilst Rangers themselves hosted Dick Advocaat's men in a friendly match at Ibrox back in 2006 as part of the deal that took Fernando Ricksen to St Petersburg.

Zenit won that game 4-1, and have come a long way since under Advocaat's leadership as last week's semi-final performance against Bayern proved.

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