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Page last updated at 18:23 GMT, Friday, 2 May 2008 19:23 UK

Gas fuels Advocaat's Zenit

Zenit manager Dick Advocaat
Advocaat is relishing his reunion with Rangers

Zenit St. Petersburg manager Dick Advocaat is delighted to be facing his former side, Rangers, in this season's Uefa Cup final.

The Dutchman replaced Walter Smith at Ibrox in 1998 and still retains an enormous affection for the club.

"I watched the Rangers game on TV after our match had finished," he said.

"I think Walter aged a bit during that game - and so did I. But it just shows you that if you work hard then you can get your rewards."

The 'Little General' expects the clash at the City of Manchester Stadium on 14 May to feel like a home game for his former side, who he led to two SPL titles before departing in 2001.

The number of fans who will travel from the city once known as Leningrad is unlikely to be anything close to the hordes who will descend to support the Light Blues in their pursuit of a first continental trophy since 1972.

Advocaat, however, is focused squarely on his building project at the Russian club, who he joined midway through the 2006-7 campaign.

A year later, they were champions of the Russian Premier League, aided in no small measure by the backing of owners and chief sponsors, Gazprom.

"It was a normal club," Advocaat told BBC Scotland. "But a couple of years ago, one of the biggest gas companies in the world took over as owner. And from that moment on there was some money to buy players.

"From the moment I arrived, things started coming: last season's championship, the Super Cup, and now in the final of the Uefa Cup."

Zenit's accomplishments are a break with tradition due to the long-held dominance of their rivals in the Russian capital, above all Lokomotiv, Spartak and CSKA.

"It's a big story because in this city, we have to fight against the clubs in Moscow who have seven clubs," he states. "It was the first time in 24 years (we were champions) so it was already an achievement.

"And this competition is at a good level so it is not easy to become champions. The competition is stronger because there are better players because of the money in Russian football."

The former Netherlands and South Korea boss is playing down his side's installation as favourites to lift the Uefa Cup, despite the absence of the tournament's top scorer Pavel Pogrebnyak for the final through suspension.


"I think it is a 50-50 game," he declared.

Yet he is already thinking beyond Manchester, to next season, and the possibility of converting the roubles of gas into a place among the top tier of European football.

That, he claims, will require more of the kind of investment and ambition which persuaded him to spurn an advance to coach Australia and remain at Zenit's helm.

"It is difficult to get good players in here because the stadia are very old. The infrastructure is very poor. You have to invest more in stadia and more in training facilities. And then the players will come."

see also
Rangers can be legends
02 May 08 |  Rangers
Smith joy over shoot-out victory
01 May 08 |  Rangers
Uefa Cup photos
01 May 08 |  Europe
Rangers 0-0 Fiorentina
24 Apr 08 |  Europe

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