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Polished Arshavin runs Rangers ragged

Andrei Arshavin and David Weir came to north-west England from different places but it was the FC Zenit St. Petersburg No10 who guided his team to victory.

Andrei Arshavin skips away from Rangers' Kevin Thomson
Andrei Arshavin skips away from Rangers' Kevin Thomson ©Getty Images

The silverware at stake told only half the story of Andrei Arshavin and David Weir's big night out in Manchester. The FC Zenit St. Petersburg forward and the Rangers FC defender had come to north-west England from quite different places but victory in the UEFA Cup final would mark a significant staging post in the footballing journey of either player.

High road
If Arshavin was standing at a crossroads in his career, this game almost signalled the end of a long and winding road for Weir. The former, entering his prime at the age of 26, went into the contest as the most glittering of Dick Advocaat's collection of jewels from the former Soviet Union. Cut out for greatness and polished in the Zenit system, his learning curve at the Petrovsky Stadium had peaked in November with his club's first all-Russian championship.

Suspension looming
The No10's devastating darts and dangerous set-pieces had also helped Russia account for England in qualifying for UEFA EURO 2008™. However, a two-match suspension to be served at this summer's tournament put his participation in Austria and Switzerland in doubt, despite his inclusion today in his country's provisional 25-man finals squad. Here, at least, was a guaranteed stage for a performer coveted by many European clubs.

Flexible friends
Arshavin, with four goals in 13 appearances in this UEFA Cup campaign, had an early chance to shine. Having acquainted himself with the right side of Zenit's attack, he went left and found space immediately. A break and pass from Zenit's other wing man, Victor Fayzulin, presented him with a shooting opportunity but he let fly left-footed into Neil Alexander's side-netting. With flexible friends Fayzulin and Arshavin supporting Fatih Tekke – in for suspended tournament leading scorer Pavel Pogrebnyak – Weir and company would have to step up.

Experienced head
The 38-year-old's first contribution illustrated the speed of thought sustaining the centre-back's top-class career as he snuffed out the danger of an electric Zenit surge. He was merely in the right place at the right time. The limbs may creak occasionally but Weir remains the same well-oiled machine that Walter Smith signed for Everton FC from Heart of Midlothian FC in 1999. If that was a belated introduction to the prime time of England's Premier League, his calm authority and unerring positional sense became a salient feature of the Everton side. It was no surprise when Smith made him the first recruit of his second spell in the Ibrox hot seat. The Rangers rearguard he has marshalled since conceded just two goals in eight games en route to the City of Manchester Stadium.

Fluid formation
This, however, was the Scottish title chasers' stiffest test. The fluidity of formation concocted by former Rangers manager Advocaat meant midfielders Igor Denisov and Konstantin Zyrianov were ever ready to advance their sphere of operations. Anatoliy Tymoschuk alone anchored the team. Yet for all their intricacy, the biggest shout that Zenit gave their outnumbered fans came, moments before half-time, when Arshavin's left-wing cross struck the hand of right-back Kirk Broadfoot.

Warning shot
Rangers asked the questions at the start of the second half, although Arshavin could always be trusted to pipe up with one of his own. It took the back-tracking Saša Papac to clear his 20-metre shot off the goalline after the Zenit No10 had profited from a long punt out of defence to break away and round goalkeeper Alexander.

Having danced in and out of the spotlight, Arshavin stared straight into it in the 72nd minute: his perfectly measured pass was the invitation for Denisov to slot Zenit into the lead. By way of an encore, he provided assists for Zyrianov and Fayzulin but their wastefulness extended the drama until added time. Then Arshavin played in Tekke, whose cross was turned in by Zyrianov from close range. The night belonged to the little Russian master.