If FC Zenit St. Petersburg are to become the first Russian club to lift the UEFA Super Cup, Dick Advocaat will have to outwit a coach he rates as the best in the world – Manchester United FC's Sir Alex Ferguson.
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If FC Zenit St. Petersburg are to become the first Russian club to lift the UEFA Super Cup tonight, Dick Advocaat will have to outwit a coach he rates as the best in the world as Sir Alex Ferguson strives to add to his Manchester United FC trophy haul in Monaco.
Whereas Advocaat is preparing for his first experience of the annual showpiece after guiding Zenit to UEFA Cup glory last season, Sir Alex would become the first manager to win the competition three times if United can add to their European crown. "I was asked recently if Mr Ferguson is the top in Europe; in my opinion he's the best in the world," Advocaat said. "If you can work for 22 years at a club like Manchester United with all the pressures that brings then you have to have exceptional quality, and Ferguson has that quality. I have lots of respect for him and his team."
Sir Alex, who previously triumphed with Aberdeen FC in 1983 and United in 1991, was similarly complimentary: "That adaptability, going from Glasgow to St Petersburg – two contrasting places – is a great asset to have. He's had a fantastic career and has always been competent and successful no matter where he's been." Advocaat joined Zenit in 2006 and the following year masterminded a first domestic title since the days of Zenit Leningrad in 1984, swiftly followed by a maiden European trophy as his former club Rangers FC were beaten in Manchester.
"We're very proud to be the winners of the UEFA Cup and proud that we can play against a team like Manchester United. Hopefully it's not the first time and the last time," said Advocaat, who admitted that "it's difficult to say what the situation is" with Andrei Arshavin as Tottenham Hotspur FC continue to court the Russia forward. What is certain is that Pavel Pogrebnyak will start in attack after overcoming a knee injury, while Danny should make his European debut after joining for €30m from FC Dinamo Moskva. Belgian defender Nicolas Lombaerts misses out with a knee injury, however.
In tradition with the styles of both clubs, the coaches promised an attacking game at Stade Louis II. "The Super Cup means no pressure on either team," said Sir Alex. "It's prestigious but provides a platform for the players to go out and enjoy themselves. Zenit's attacking play captured a lot of people's attention last season so hopefully it turns out to be a really exciting and attacking game, and I think it will be. Many people will make us favourites but that won't affect our preparations."
United have taken four points from their opening two Premier League games, and could be fresher than a Zenit side 19 games into their campaign. Sir Alex will take the opportunity to field Owen Hargreaves, Ji-Sung Park and Gary Neville as they continue their recovery from injuries, and Nani will return from a domestic suspension. Cristiano Ronaldo (ankle) will be one stellar absentee, although his manager promised not to make the mistakes of 1999 when United were caught cold by S.S. Lazio. "The last time we came here I played a weakened team," he said. "When I saw Lazio celebrating, I said that I won't let that happen again; they celebrated like they had won the World Cup. We'll have a much stronger team this time." The stage is set.