Zoran Tošić's goal against FC Lokomotiv Moskva secured a 1-0 win for PFC CSKA Moskva on Thursday night, and a second successive Russian title after an improbably dramatic finish.
CSKA ended up with near-identical figures to their success last season (20 wins, four draws, six defeats and 49 goals – but conceding 25 this time compared to 26 in 2012/13), but the end-of-season drama was incomparable. "This is some kind of a fairy tale," said emotional coach Leonid Slutski after the final whistle at Arena Khimki. "No writer could have thought up a plot like this for the league, but we have a team that can do anything - even work miracles when no-one believes in us."
The Army Men's president Evgeni Giner was no less overjoyed as CSKA rose at the last, though he maintained that a title defence was in the plan all along, regardless of results on the pitch. "Had we not set a goal to win the league from the off, we would have been better off going and playing ten-pin bowling or cricket – which are great sports too," he said. "Of course, we were hoping to win [the title]. I am happy that we presented our fans with such a celebration."
A title repeat looked to be a long way off when Slutski's side fell nine points off the pace with a defeat to FC Dinamo Moskva in early March, but a ten-game winning streak allowed them to burn off Lokomotiv and FC Zenit. "The last title was tougher because we were top of the table throughout," the 43-year-old Slutski admitted. "That brings a lot of pressure. This season, we were chasing the other teams, and only before the last matchday did the tension levels go through the roof."
Zenit's hopes of regaining the crown on the last day hinged on CSKA dropping points. The St Petersburg side won 4-1 at FC Kuban Krasnodar, but coach André Villas-Boas knew only too well that the title would have been theirs but for a calamitous home loss to Dinamo on Sunday. "We lost the league last Sunday against Dinamo when the standings turned upside down and we lost the first place," he conceded. "We put a good performance in Krasnodar but it was not enough."
However, while Zenit are despairing, Lokomotiv – who led the rankings at the winter break and for much of the spring – have reason to feel pride at finishing third, despite dropping points to both Zenit and CSKA in the final run-in. Ninth last season, the Railwaymen showed more grit under former FC Sheriff boss Leonid Kuchuk, the 54-year-old concluding: "The league has got more interesting with the emergence of a Lokomotiv side that make every other opponent sweat."
Dinamo claimed fourth spot with FC Krasnodar finishing fifth to earn a continental debut in next season's UEFA Europa League. Nine-time Russian champions Spartak ended up sixth, missing out on Europe despite a hard-fought 3-2 comeback win against Dinamo on the last day. "We only have ourselves to blame," said Spartak midfielder Denis Glushakov. "It was nice to win but that European place wasn't meant for us. Everyone needs to get their minds straight and improve."
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