Dick Advocaat reflected on "good times for Russian football" after his FC Zenit St. Petersburg side ensured the UEFA Cup trophy went to eastern Europe for the second time in four years. But while the Dutchman celebrated the "special prize" of his maiden European title after a host of domestic triumphs, Rangers FC counterpart Walter Smith could only envy the match-winning talent of Andrey Arshavin.
Advocaat had been prone to refer to Rangers, the club he managed from 1998 to 2002, as "my team" in the run-up to the Manchester final. However, as Zenit's players held him aloft following their 2-0 victory, his allegiance was clear. "I feel very happy," he said, once they had put him down. "Winning a prize like this doesn't happen very often in your life. I have won all sorts of championships in my career but never a European trophy, so it is a special prize. I'm very proud – the way we played in the tournament, we really deserved this."
The pedigree of the opposition Zenit beat en route to their maiden UEFA final was testament to that claim. Villarreal CF, Olympique de Marseille, Bayer 04 Leverkusen and then FC Bayern München all fell to the Russian side, although Advocaat said Rangers provided their biggest test. "It was probably more difficult for us to win this match than the game against Bayern, because everyone expected us to lose against Bayern and the expectation was much greater against Rangers," said the 60-year-old. "But my players handled that really well.
"We knew Rangers could score a goal out of nothing, especially in the second half. But we scored two brilliant goals and over the 90 minutes we were the better side and deserved to win." That thought was echoed by Walter Smith, who was nonetheless disappointed that his charges failed to claim their club's second European title. "Zenit were the better side in the first half.
"In the second half we came into it but lost a goal at a bad time," he said, referring to the moment Arshavin fed Igor Denisov to make it 1-0 with 18 minutes remaining. Konstantin Zyryanov wrapped up the win in added time. "I can't speak highly enough of this group of players," Smith added. "They have been fantastic over an 18-game European campaign. None of us would have imagined that we would reach a European final."
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