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Zenit And CSKA March On In The Russian Premier League

Friday 23rd March 2012
Zenit St. Petersburg and CSKA Moscow secured convincing victories on Match Day 35 of the Russian Premier League.

The drama began when Zenit crushed Dynamo Moscow 5-1 at Arena Khimki in the most entertaining match of 2012 so far. Following a disappointing draw at home to Kuban Krasnodar last time out, Luciano Spalletti's charges appeared rejuvenated as they won their first game this year in the most impressive of fashions.

Domenico Criscito set the ball rolling when calamitous Dynamo defending gave the Italian the chance to nod Zenit in front on 14 minutes. The home side barely had a chance to recover before man-mountain Aleksandr Kerzhakov picked up the ball 25 yards out from goal and let rip with an unstoppable strike just one minute later.

The 2,000 or so mainly bare-chested travelling supporters were in full celebratory mode on 24 minutes when Sergei Semak latched on to Andrei Arshavin's perfect through-ball and passed the ball beyond the Dynamo keeper to put Zenit into a commanding 3-0 lead.

Dynamo came out stronger in the second-half, with half-time substitute Aleksandr Samedov in particular playing well, and fuelled thoughts of a comeback when Kevin Kuranyi headed in from a well-taken set-piece by the Policemen in the 73rd minute. But Kerzhakov responded for the away side with a fine header two minutes later to confirm the Zenit victory with his 19th goal of a fine season for the seasoned Russian international.

The 2011 RPL champions wrapped up the victory in the 79th minute when substitute, Szabolcs Huszti, lashed in a free-kick from the edge of the area. The big win keeps Zenit well-placed to retain the title in May, as they lead at the top of the table by six points. Dynamo fell to 4th after this result.

Second-placed CSKA Moscow needed 3 points to keep the pressure on Zenit, but had to overcome their fiercest rivals in Spartak Moscow. The Russian ‘Clasico' attracted a crowd of over 51,000 to the Luzhniki Stadium as Spartak sought to overtake their city adversaries in the league and win a home game against CSKA for the first time since 2001.

The game was slow to get going but CSKA looked the greater threat. They took the lead in the 37th minute as Seydou Doumbia presented Zoran Tosic with a one-on-one opportunity with Spartak keeper, Andriy Dykan, and the midfielder toe-poked early shot dribbled agonisingly over the line via the post.

Spartak started the second half more positively and the tempo of the game turned the fixture into a more pulsating affair. Artem Dzyuba fired in an equaliser for the ‘Meat' on 51 minutes as Spartak appeared to be turning the tide. But the home side were dealt a hammer-blow in the 62nd minute, when Doumbia received a cross from the lively Sekou Oliseh and calmly slotted the ball into the net - making the Ivorian the Russian Premier League's record goal-scorer in a season.

The goal effectively ended Spartak's dominance and CSKA then went on to control the rest of the match. Doumbia was guilty of missing two gilt-edged chances to earn him the match ball as the clock ticked down. Spartak's missed opportunity saw them slide down to fifth, while second placed CSKA opened up a four point gap over their nearest competitor, Lokomotiv Moscow.

Lokomotiv's solid 1-0 win over Anzhi Makachkhala at the Lokomotiv Stadium pushed the Railroaders up to third. Denis Glushakov's 74th minute strike earned Lokomotiv a deserved victory in a game that most will, unfortunately, remember for all the wrong reasons after a banana was thrown at Anzhi's Christopher Samba at the end of the game. Guus Hiddink's side remain seventh and are cast further adrift from the league's summit.

Eighth placed Kuban earned a morale-boosting 1-0 win over sixth placed Rubin Kazan on their home turf thanks to Marcos Pizzelli's 43rd minute strike. Neither side moved in the table, although the bottom of the Top 8 division is a lot tighter.

In the Relegation Group, Krasnodar, Terek Grozny and Krylia Sovetov all recorded wins at the expense of Volga, Rostov and Spartak Nalchik respectively, while Amkar Perm and Tom Tomsk played out a goalless draw.

As it stands, Nalchik and Tomsk would be dropping a division while Krylia and Volga would face play-offs for their top-flight survival. Krasnodar lead the second group comfortably and only dreadful end-of-season runs could pull Rostov, Terek or Amkar into the relegation dogfight.
Andrew Belt

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