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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
Tired legs against fresh ones, defensive containment against attacking intent; tonight's UEFA Cup Final between Glasgow Rangers and Zenit St Petersburg will be a real clash of strengths and styles, but Dick Advocaat is convinced that he can secure a historic result against his old side.

The Zenit boss managed Rangers between 1998 and 2002, but he never had them playing the kind of rigid anti-football that has taken Walter Smith's side to the brink of a rare European trophy. The Scottish side have forced their to the Final, defeating superior teams like Werder Bremen and Fiorentina by refusing to offer their opponents any space at all and then seizing their chances on the break. It hasn't been pretty, but it's certainly been effective and you have to congratulate them for it. Rangers were falling apart under Paul Le Guen in January 2007 when Smith answered Sir David Murray's distress call and quit his position as the national coach to return to Ibrox. In under 18 months, the improvement is astonishing. Entertainingly, on the BBC webpage reporting his return, there is a message from a supporter saying, "Fans who think that Smith will wave a magic wand and bring back the glory days are deluded." But that's exactly what he's done.

Advocaat has enjoyed similar success at Zenit, but playing a much more expansive entertaining style of football. The Russian side won their first ever league title this year and will make their Champions League bow next season. In Andrei Arshavin they have their own version of Steven Gerrard, a full-blooded attacking midfielder who can make a goal out of nothing. They will badly miss the goals of Pavel Pogrebnyak, the competition's top scorer but, as the team displayed in their 4-1 victory at Bayer Leverkusen in the quarter-finals, they have firepower all the way through the squad. Russian sides are rarely considered to be the equal of the European elite, but like CSKA Moscow in 2005, Zenit are determined to break down those lazy perceptions and carry home the trophy. Their FA has been sympathetic to their challenge, allowing them to postpone domestic league games in order to prepare. Scotland's FA have done the opposite, ordering Rangers to continue a four-pronged trophy assault, regardless of fixture congestion

Regardless of that, only a fool would stake huge amounts of money against a Scottish side in one-off game. The national side proved that when they beat both Italy and France in the Euro 2008 qualification group. It's a peculiarly Scottish trait to take great delight in finding yourself out-numbered and out-gunned, something that probably stems from their historic victory against the English at Stirling in 1297. The worse the odds, the greater the potential glory. Certainly, they have all of William 'Braveheart' Wallace's courage and resilience, but it will it be enough for a similar upset?

Zenit absolutely destroyed Bayern Munich in the semi-finals, holding them 1-1 in Germany and then crushing them 4-0 in Russia. That's Bayern Munich, home of Oliver Kahn, Franck Ribery, Miroslav Klose and Luca Toni, by the way. They are highly skilled, unnaturally quick and very dangerous. Rangers couldn't have asked for more difficult opponents, but that's just the way the like it. Unfortunately, this may be too much, even for them.