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UEFA Cup final to produce another classic?
The UEFA Cup final has thrown together two teams of contrasting styles, pitting free-scoring Russian champions Zenit St Petersburg , managed by Dutchman Dick Advocaat, against a defensively-solid Rangers team guided by Walter Smith.
Will that combination produce yet another classic at the showpiece at the City of Manchester stadium?
The last 10 finals since 1998 have been largely high-scoring affairs – averaging 3.9 goals per match. Who could forget Liverpool’s epic 5-4 win over Alaves, secured with a golden goal in 2001, or Porto’s 3-2 victory over Celtic two years later.
Zenit, even without suspended top scorer Pavel Pogrebynak for the final, have the potential to test the best club defences.
In 16 European games the Russians have rammed in 29 goals, an impressive tally not lost on Smith, who believes Zenit would have more than held their own had they played Champions League football this season.
Zenit will play in Europe’s premier club competition next season, reward for winning the Russian title, but Advocaat must first hatch a plan to overcome a club he knows inside out having guided Rangers to two league titles between 1998 and 2002.
Rangers have found goals hard to come by since parachuting into the UEFA Cup from the Champions League, but with Spaniard Carlos Cuellar, named Scottish Football Writers’ Player of the Year, a rock at the back they do not concede many either.
The thousands of Rangers fans expected to pack the City of Manchester stadium won’t give a hoot if the Ibrox side repeat their semi-final penalty shootout win over Fiorentina when both sides cancelled each other out and failed to come up with a goal over a turgid two legs.
The omens for goals are not good though – the only previous European final held in Manchester – the 2002-03 Champions League decider between Juventus and AC Milan at Old Trafford – finished scoreless after 120 minutes.
PHOTO: Media crews film the UEFA cup at a news conference at the City of Manchester stadium in Manchester, northern England May 13, 2008. REUTERS/Michael Dalder