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Season review: Russia

Published: Tuesday 22 May 2012, 21.00CET
Russia's 20th championship was a 44-round marathon but, spearheaded by Aleksandr Kerzhakov, FC Zenit St Petersburg maintained impressive form throughout to defend their title.
by Dmitri Rogovitski
from Moscow
Season review: Russia
Igor Denisov, Vyacheslav Malafeev and Aleksandr Kerzhakov celebrate Zenit's title triumph ©AFP/Getty Images
Published: Tuesday 22 May 2012, 21.00CET

Season review: Russia

Russia's 20th championship was a 44-round marathon but, spearheaded by Aleksandr Kerzhakov, FC Zenit St Petersburg maintained impressive form throughout to defend their title.

Russia's 20th championship was the longest yet as the Premier-Liga made the transition from summer to winter league. Its 352 matches and 836 goals were spread over the course of 14 months, but at the end of it there was a familiar name at the top of the pile: FC Zenit St Petersburg. Behind them it was a much closer affair as, in a 44-round season, second place and a UEFA Champions League qualifying berth went down to the last day, FC Spartak Moscow edging out PFC CSKA Moskva and FC Dinamo Moskva.

Champions: FC Zenit St Petersburg
Zenit trailed CSKA by seven points at one point last summer as the Army Men stormed out of the blocks but Luciano Spalletti's team never lost their composure. Gradually, they reeled the leaders in, assuming top spot at the halfway mark as CSKA endured a loss of form – they never relinquished control. By the start of spring, when the league split in two for the final 14 games, they were six points clear; by the end, their advantage was more than double that.

Cup final: FC Dinamo Moskva 0-1 FC Rubin Kazan
Kurban Berdyev's team have had the beating of Dinamo for a few years now and so it proved again as two-time champions Rubin captured their maiden Russian Cup. Exciting winter signing Roman Eremenko scored the only goal 12 minutes from time in Ekaterinburg, lashing in from long range. "The cup was the only trophy missing to complete our domestic set and thankfully we won it," said Berdyev.

European places*
FC Zenit St Petersburg – UEFA Champions League, group stage
FC Spartak Moskva – UEFA Champions League, third qualifying round
PFC CSKA Moskva – UEFA Europa League, play-off
FC Rubin Kazan – UEFA Europa League, play-off
FC Dinamo Moskva – UEFA Europa League, third qualifying round
FC Anzhi Makhachkala – UEFA Europa League, second qualifying round

* Subject to final confirmation from UEFA

Player of the Year: Aleksandr Kerzhakov (FC Zenit St Petersburg)
An ankle injury at the start of October meant that the striker missed nearly five months of action, an absence which probably ended his challenge to CSKA's Seydou Doumbia as the league's top scorer. Kerzhakov has still managed 23 goals and nine assists, and at 29 he feels there is more to come. "I don't feel like a veteran," Kerzhakov said. "I feel like I'm 18. The most important thing is to avoid injuries. If I stay healthy than I will have enough power. My dream is to see the star on the Zenit shirt when we get our fifth Russian league title."

One to watch: Magomed Ozdoev (FC Lokomotiv Moskva)
Ozdoev had not made a league start before this season but he may end it at UEFA EURO 2012 after being included in Russia's initial 26-man squad. He has emerged as a ball winner par excellence, sitting in front of the defence and acting as a launch pad for the attack. A mature 19, he wears his heart on his sleeve – qualities that will no doubt appeal to new coach Slaven Bilić when he takes the Lokomotiv reins in July.

Surprise package: FC Anzhi Makhachkala
The big-spending Dagestan outfit went through five coaches but, in the end, Guus Hiddink guided them to the prize they coveted: European football. Five goals in the last five games from Samuel Eto'o helped lift them from seventh to fifth, not bad for a side only in their second season back in the Russian top flight.

Leading scorer: Seydou Doumbia, PFC CSKA Moskva (28)

Relegated: FC Tom Tomsk, FC Spartak Nalchik

Promoted: FC Mordovia Saransk, FC Alania Vladikavkaz

Number: 13
Zenit finished 13 points clear of second-placed Spartak at the summit.

Quote
"We can add this league win to the list of our greatest achievements as we built up a severe lead over what are strong opponents. This was a masterpiece!"
Zenit coach Luciano Spalletti after sealing the title with a 2-1 win against Dinamo in late April.

Last updated: 10/07/12 13.55CET

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