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Advocaat rejects favourites tag

SoccerNews in UEFA Europa League 13 May 2008

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Zenit St Petersburg coach Dick Advocaat has dismissed suggestions his side will start as favourites in Wednesday's UEFA Cup final against his old club Rangers.

The Russian champions' semi-final demolition of Bayern Munich has earned them that status in the eyes of most neutrals, and even those of his Rangers counterpart Walter Smith.

But Advocaat is anticipating a close encounter against a side whose style he compared to that of his own, much-admired team.

“I know that in the build-up in Scotland everyone try to push Zenit in the favourite role,” the Dutchman said on the eve of the match. “No problem, I like that.

“But you don't beat the teams that Rangers have beaten and come in the final of the UEFA Cup without a balanced team that can play football.

“Both teams know each other quite well, I don't think there will be a big difference between us, so let the best team win.”

Zenit's cause has not been helped by the loss of striker Pavel Pogrebnyak, the joint top scorer in this season's competition with ten goals, through suspension, and Rangers will effectively be playing a home match with up to 100,000 fans expected to flood into Manchester despite the club being allocated fewer than 15,000 tickets for the match.

Advocaat shrugged off concerns that the legions of passionate fans could tip the contest in Rangers' favour with a smile.

“They are not all in the stadium,” he said. “We have 115 million in Russia who support us, and even the president I hear.”

The Dutchman also played down the loss of Pogrebnyak, which is any case offset by the return of Zenit's best player, Andrei Arshavin.

“With all respect of Pavel I always talk about the players who are available not the players who are not there. We did it against Bayern (when Arshavin was suspended) and we have to do it again tomorrow, they have to do it even without Pavel.”

Advocaat was reluctant to single out key players on either side but he was drawn into acknowledging that Arshavin, Russia's playmaker, has the ability to turn any match in his side's favour.

“We have many quality players, like Rangers, but he is an exceptional talent. Hopefully he can show it tomorrow night.”

Advocaat does not expect Rangers to depart from the safety-first blueprint that has taken them to the final and made a penalty shoot-out finale to Wednesday's showpiece a distinct possibility.

But he does not endorse the views of his countryman Louis van Gaal, one of a number of leading football figures who have criticised Rangers' prosaic style this season as negative for the broader interests of the game.

“Rangers is a zone team and well organised defensively with a lot of men behind the ball. But when they have the ball they come out with three or four players and they do that very well. We do a little bit about the same. You cannot only go in attack, Rangers do that and we do it.”

Zenit's players have been fine-tuning their spot-kicks, even though Advocaat admitted he regarded it as an exercise in futility.

“We did it more or less to satisfy the media,” he said. “Otherwise they will say it is a mistake. But I still don't think you can train for penalties.

“If I do it today I can score, tomorrow night is a totally different thing with all the peopole and all the pressure. We did it (practice) but hopefully we won't need it.”

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