Zenit wrest trophy from Moscow
Spending freely does not guarantee success. It does, however, provoke expectation and demand and unless ambition is realised, criticism is inevitable.
FC Zenit's goal going into the 2007 season was to prise the Russian Premier League title away from Moscow for only the second time in the competition's 16-year existence, and on Sunday the St Petersburg outfit managed to fulfill this objective.
While all of their big-money signings - namely Anatoliy
Tymoschuk, Pavel Pogrebnyak, Fatih Tekke and Alejandro Dominguez -
made sizeable contributions to their conquest, it was the
lesser-known Radek Sirl who delivered the title-clinching goal. On
the final day of the campaign, the Czech import was the solitary
marksman against FC Saturn to seal Zenit's tenth win in 11
outings and ensure they finished two points clear of runners-up
"This is a dream come true," said Sirl. "We were close in 2003 but finished second. This is a victory for everyone, not just me. It didn't matter who scored the goal."
There was no doubt as to whom Zenit's triumph was most
indebted. Andrey Arshavin was the only member of Dick
Advocaat's squad to start all 30 leagues matches, and the
outstanding No10 reached double figures in both goals and assists.
Quick, skillful, a master of the through ball and a dependable
finisher, the versatile Russian is, at 26, clearly in his pomp.
Zenit supporters are renowned for their passion and in Arshavin they have an idol supreme. They are not alone in admiring the player, though, with a selection of European heavyweights coveting his signature. Regardless of whether the St Petersburg-born ace chooses to leave the club he has served so creditably throughout the entirety of his career to date, he has already written his name into the club's pantheon of legends.
For his part, Tymoschuk has also lived up to his towering
reputation. The tireless midfielder swiftly assumed the
captain's armband following a club-record transfer from
Shakhtar Donetsk at the start of the year, and his influence drove
the side to its first league crown since their conquest of the old
Soviet Top League in 1984.
"This was a great success but a deserved success," beamed Dutch coach Dick Advocaat, who had previously won titles in his homeland and Scotland. "We have claimed more points than anyone else and scored more goals. We have played some brilliant football in the second half of the season."
Spartak come close
Level on points with the eventual champions with just three rounds remaining, Spartak will be disappointed to have finished second for the third successive season. The Meat can, nevertheless, take encouragement from ending up atop of their Muscovite rivals and grabbing a place in the third qualifying round to the 2008/09 UEFA Champions League. Their prolific striker Roman Pavlyuchenko, who posted both goals in Russia's 2-1 defeat of England in UEFA EURO 2008 qualifying last month, was one player whose performances merited more than a silver medal.
By their own high standards, CSKA Moscow experienced a frustrating campaign, eventually running home in third, eight points shy of Zenit. Although they only fell to defeat five times - the same number of losses suffered by the two sides above them - a lack of victories cost them a third straight title. Meanwhile, Lokomotiv Moscow, whom CSKA succeeded on top of the podium in 2005, endured further disappointment, finishing 20 points off the pace in seventh.
One capital outfit did finish the season with ample cause for celebration, however, FC Moscow upsetting the odds to finish in a club-best fourth position. Still, there was no doubt where the biggest party took place.
The Zenit supporters had arrived in their droves at their Petrovsky Stadium home to watch their game against FC Saturn on the big screens, and the noise was deafening when Sirl struck the only goal. As the final whistle sounded, euphoria swept the north-western city, which by now was sea of blue-and-white.
FC Zenit's pre-season outlay was a threat of intent. Now, finally, they have ended the Muscovites' stranglehold.