The parties are just about dying down after FC Zenit St Petersburg's title triumph brought a wave of joy and relief across the city, leaving dancing players, broken goalposts and a contented coach in its wake.
There were simmering fears that Zenit were about to throw it all away when they suffered their first home league defeat of the season, and only second loss overall, against PFC CSKA Moskva last Wednesday. For so long runaway leaders, suddenly they were in sight: CSKA and FC Rubin Kazan lurked, ready to pounce. Fear? What fear? Any doubts were blown away on Sunday, as a 5-0 win at home to FC Rostov brought them home with two matches to spare.
"I promised my daughter we would win," said Aleksandr Kerzhakov, scorer of Zenit's third goal eight minutes from time. "Also,
on the bus before the match I told Igor Denisov this would be our day. I'd felt that all morning." One wonders how he was feeling as dawn broke today, after an evening of celebrations that began with an impromptu dance with Vladimir Bystrov, Danko Lazović, Vyacheslav Malafeev and Danny on the massage table.
As over-exuberant fans took to the pitch – leading to the demise of one of the goal frames – and the players raised the roof, Luciano Spalletti cut a more restrained figure. "I want to dedicate this win to our players," said the Italian, who took the reins last December. "They did their jobs well. My second dedication is to Aleksei Miller and Aleksandr Dyukov, who created this team. The third is to the city of St Petersburg and our fans – I felt at home right from the start."
If this is Spalletti's first league title, midfielder Sergei Semak has seen it all before – at CSKA in 2003 and, for the past two seasons, with Rubin Kazan. "During the break we were told CSKA had been held to a draw [at FC Spartak Nalchik] and that motivated us even more," said the 34-year-old, whose side had been 1-0 up at half-time. "Rostov tired and it was pretty easy for us in the end.
"We cannot relax now, though," Semak added. "We still have two games left and we want to end the season on a high." It is difficult to see how Zenit can better a year that has brought the league and cup double and qualification for the UEFA Europa League round of 32 with two matches to spare. Yet the feeling is that this is only the start.
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