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CSKA twins playing to win

PFC CSKA Moskva's defence on Wednesday night will include identical twins Vassili and Aleksei Berezoutski.

By Pavle Gognidze in Lisbon

When PFC CSKA Moskva won the Premier-Liga title in 2003, they did not win the hearts of Russian supporters. Coach Valeriy Gazzaev's physical style of play was routinely dismissed as "elephant football", while his tall twin defenders, Vassili and Aleksei Berezoutski, were generally regarded as a liability.

Refounded strength
Two years on, the elephantine football has gone, with wily Daniel Carvalho rather than Sergey Semak inspiring CSKA. But while a tactical revolution has occurred around them, the Berezoutskis have come into their own as two-thirds of Gazzaev's water-tight three-man back line.

Gazzaev reminder
Earlier this season, Gazzaev took delight in reminding the Russian press - so long critics of his inelegant defenders - just how far the twins have travelled in the last two seasons. He said: "Do you remember how much criticism the brothers and I came under when I kept playing them for CSKA and the national team?

Hard heads
"The Berezoutskis could have broken down and been too self-critical but they kept on working and did not pay attention to the offensive remarks made about them," he added of the brothers, who were born on 20 June 1982. "These players will keep getting better, I have no doubt about that."

Russian affirmation
When Gazzaev selected the Berezoutskis for the national team during his ill-starred spell as Russia coach, it was seen as a dreadful error. However, his decision seems to have been vindicated as his successors, Georgi Yartsev and now Yuri Semin, have both called up the twins for national duty.

Massive improvements
The reason why is clear. The pair have demonstrated a mastery of positioning, complete dominance in the air and have perfected their tackling to Italian standards. Moreover, with their confidence high, the 22-year-olds are not afraid to play their part in CSKA attacks.

Attacking prowess
Vassili Berezoutski has scored twice in this season's UEFA Cup, against Parma FC and SL Benfica, while both the graduates of the FC Torpedo-ZIL Moskva (now FC Moskva) academy have proved to be adept at intercepting the ball and driving up the flanks to deliver teasing crosses into the area.

Big brother
Vassili is the elder of the two by 30 minutes - something that has its advantages. "In training with CSKA we often play a game whereby four players have to pass to each other while the fifth has to try and win the ball," said Vassili. "Normally, the youngest player starts without the ball. So if we're in the same game and everybody else is older than us, Aleksei ends up in the middle!"

Brothers reunited
The duo have spent only one season apart in 2001, when Aleksei was sent on loan to FC Chernomorets Novorossyisk while Vassili remained at Torpedo-ZIL, but they were reunited the following year when Gazzaev decided to bring both to CSKA. The rest, as they say, is history.

Sporting task
However, they could take their burgeoning legend to a new level if they manage to keep Sporting Clube de Portugal under wraps in Wednesday's UEFA Cup final at the Estádio José Alvalade. It is without doubt the biggest game of their careers, and possibly the biggest in CSKA's history too.

Mystical connection
The Army Men will be hoping talk of a mystical connection between twins rings true. "Is it easier for twins to understand each other?" said Vassili. "Maybe. Intuition tells you how you would play in your brother's place, and you can foresee how events will unfold."