Russia's reigning champions Zenit St Petersburg failed to make a winning start in the deciding stage of the Premier League as they were held to a 0-0 draw by visitors Anzhi Makhachkala on Friday. The result still left Zenit top of the table with 62 points from 31 matches as their closest chasers CSKA Moscow failed to close the gap, suffering a 2-1 home defeat at the hands of Rubin Kazan to stay three points adrift.
Saint Petersburg started in lively fashion, pinning their rivals back from the kick off to test their defence, keeping Anzhi kkeeper Yevgeny Pomazan on his toes without making an early breakthrough. The hosts' forward Alexander Bukharov, who spearheaded Zenit attacks, was lacking the killer instinct in front of the visitors' net, missing a slew of chances and also picking up a yellow card for diving.
After the break Anzhi picked up steam, forcing Zenit goalie Vyacheslav Malafeyev into a couple of impressive saves. Anzhi Moroccan midfielder Mbark Boussoufa helped to dash his team's chances of a goal as he was sent off for a second yellow card within just two minutes with nine minutes remaining.
Rubin took the lead in the 16th minute of their match against hosts CSKA, scoring on a rapid counter-attack. Midfielder Alan Kasaev received a razor-sharp pass by Israeli teammate Bebars Natcho in the box and outpaced defender Pavel Mamayev to send the ball inside the right-hand post past outstretched hands of CSKA 'keeper Vladimir Gabulov.
The Red Amry side pulled level through Ivorian sharpshooter Seidou Doumbia, who beat Rubin keeper Sergei Ryzhikov with a precise spotkick scoring his season's 24th goal after the guests fouled Mamayev in their box. Nine minutes after the interval Doumbia missed a chance to put CSKA into the lead sending the ball over the bar from the penalty spot after Kazan defenders fouled Keisuke Honda in the area.
CSKA paid the price for wasting the chance as Kazan midfielder Alexander Ryazantsev netted Rubin's winner just after the hour mark, beating Gabulov with a 32-metre shot.
The Sunday matches between Dynamo Moscow against Kuban Krasnodar and Moscow city rivals Spartak and Lokomotiv will complete the schedule of the top eight of the Russian league, who will decide the league title winner.