sports blog by andy shenk

Russian Premier League Wrap: Week 26

In Russian Football on April 29, 2013 at 8:36 PM

Published at Russian Football News. Click here or at the end of this excerpt to read the entire article.

Week 26 in the Premier League only added more vigor and intrigue to the title chase and a cluttered Europa League field.

Building on Saturday’s results – Dinamo, Terek and Lokomotiv each dispatched lower-table opponents – Sunday’s matches saw Spartak close the gap on 3rd-place Anzhi, while Rubin kept Zenit in the hunt for 1st with a clinical 2-0 home win over CSKA.

But Krasnodar, the southern capital of Russian football, played host to the most thrilling match of the weekend and one of the best this spring in the Premier League.

Kuban Krasnodar fans packed the local stadium, 30,000-strong, for the match with two-time reigning Premier League champions, Zenit. Kuban sat three points off a spot in the Europa League; Zenit – four points back of CSKA , with the Army Men preparing to kick off in Kazan against Rubin a few hours later.

The sun beat down in Krasnodar all afternoon and the play on the field matched the intensity. Zenit’s 35-year-old midfielder Konstantin Zyryanov put the visitors ahead in the 6th minute, but Kuban, on a remarkable run of five consecutive draws under Leonid Kuchuk, struck back within the half hour on Daniel Niculae’s 20-yard bullet and a lucky bounce for Ivelin Popov in the box.

Neither side was dominant and Zenit, despite the pressure of the title chase, deservedly leveled the match in the 66th minute, thanks to Igor Denisov’s sharp onside pass to Danny, who just dinked the ball past a scrambling Aleksandr Belenov.

Danny, who scrambled to grab the ball from the net and return it to midfield, reflected Zenit’s urgency to secure three points yesterday. Luciano Spalletti paced the sideline in a light blue polo shirt, his agitation hardly hidden by his tense, muscular frame. But Kuban stood firm against Zenit’s pressure. Vladimir Bystrov wasted an excellent chance in the 86th minute after the ball landed at his feet a few yards out in the box and as the clock wound down Zenit looked doomed to a draw.

Yet Kuban, forced to play on the counter most of the second half, had one last surprise up its sleeve. Four minutes were added, and with the 94th minute expiring, one-time Zenit man Aleksey Ionov went streaking downfield, neck-and-neck with Nicholas Lombaerts, and brought down a deep pass just outside the box. Vyacheslav Malafeev came out to meet him, but Ionov’s shot slipped by. As the crowd roared, bathed by the warm evening sun, Ionov’s ball collided with the near post and bounced back harmlessly for Lombaerts to clear away.

Continue reading at Russian Football News.

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