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Having tasted the sweet success of a second consecutive Russian Premier-Liga title on Saturday, evergreen defender Roman Sharonov is confident FC Rubin Kazan can now set about preserving their place at Europe's top table into the new year.
Twelve months ago, as Rubin hoisted aloft their first ever league trophy, few in the red and green imagined they would top it. But they just did, according to Sharonov, as a goalless draw with FC Zenit St. Petersburg proved enough to retain the title after FC Spartak Moskva lost 3-2 to PFC CSKA Moskva. "Last year we were crowned much earlier than the penultimate round, but this triumph is not more difficult, it is more enjoyable," said the 33-year-old. "We played much better, less defensively, but now we must forget that and concentrate on the Champions League."
To that end title celebrations were limited to a team dinner, even if the meal did finish with the rare sight of normally taciturn coach Kurban Berdyev dancing. He admitted he "nearly died of shame" when it was shown on television but that will disappear should Rubin beat FC Dynamo Kyiv on Tuesday, a result that would even see them advance at the expense of FC Barcelona should the holders lose to FC Internazionale Milano at Camp Nou. "I hope the positive feeling in the squad will help us [against Dynamo]," said Sharonov. "If somebody had told me at the start of the campaign that we would collect four points against Barcelona, I would have said they were mad.
"I did not expect us to be in contention for the knockout rounds, yet it is possible," the former Russian international added. "But we are not thinking about it. We are not Barcelona, who can play relaxed and still win matches. We are newcomers here and have to fight every minute. I've watched our win at Camp Nou on DVD and we were really lucky there." Fortune may have been on their side then, but having also clinched home draws with Barça and FC Internazionale Milano, the Russian titleholders are now a deserved second place in the section – despite starting their campaign with a 3-1 loss at Dynamo after shipping three goals in the last 19 minutes.
'Lack of experience'
"It was our tournament debut and we have gained much more experienced since then," Sharonov contended. "We played well in the first half but then paid for our lack of experience." Artem Milevskiy was not among the scorers that night, but Sharonov is wary that the Ukrainian international striker is likely to pose a serious threat on Tuesday. "He's good with the ball at his feet despite his imposing frame. I hope I play better against him than I did in Kyiv."
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