Russia's so-called “northern capital” was the scene of massive celebrations last night as FC Zenit St. Petersburg arrived home bearing the UEFA Cup trophy.
Having defeated Rangers FC 2-0 in Wednesday's final, the Russian champions were originally due to make their triumphant return at 17.00 local time, only to fall victim to congestion at Manchester Airport. Zenit eventually landed at Pulkovo airport two hours later than planned and travelled directly to the square bordering the Peterburgsky Sports and Concert Complex, where celebrations and live music had already started.
It soon became clear that St. Petersburg governor Valentina Matvienko had delivered on her promise that “the city will have a decent welcome for its heroes”, with thousands of residents crowding into the square to catch a glimpse of the team and the trophy. Needing to shout to make himself heard, coach Dick Advocaat thanked the supporters for their backing throughout Zenit's European campaign. “We are especially proud of the St. Petersburg fans,” he said. “You truly are the best. I hope that in the UEFA Champions League we will continue to say the same. Thank you all.”
The Dutch coach then gave way to a rousing rendition of Zenit's unofficial anthem, “The City Over the Free Neva”, sung not only by the fans but also by coaching staff, club officials, players and even some of the 6,000 police officers present to maintain security. The players eventually made their way home at the end of the concert and fireworks display, but many supporters continued to celebrate through the night, congregating at another famous square, Dvortsovaya Ploshad, and several other popular sites across the city.
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