Zenit lead the way for Russian Clubs in Europe

Zenit St. Petersburg's Artem Dzyuba (R) and Hulk (L) celebrate after scoring against Olympique Lyon during their Champions League Group H soccer match in Lyon, France © Robert Pratta
Zenit St Petersburg, Lokomotiv Moscow and FK Krasnodar are into the first knockout stages of the Champions League and Europa League respectively, but it has not all been plain sailing for Russian clubs this season in Europe.

Andre Villas-Boas’ Zenit have blazed a trail in Europe this season, topping Group H in the Champions League with a game to spare. Their perfect group stage record this season came to an end against Belgian champions Gent on Wednesday, but theirs has been a European adventure full of attacking invention and flair – and they will look forward to only their second appearance in the first knockout round after Christmas.

Striker Artem Dzyuba has been on fine form, with his goal in the defeat against Gent his sixth of the campaign so far, putting the 27-year-old behind only Cristiano Ronaldo and Robert Lewandowski in the Champions League top scorers’ charts.

CSKA Moscow, however, failed to match Zenit’s Champions League exploits, finishing bottom of Group B with just one win to their name. That came against PSV in November, and while Leonid Slutsky’s side has carved out a four point lead at the top of the Russian Premier League, their finishing last even prevents them from joining both Lokomotiv and Krasnodar in the last 32 of the Europa League.

Currently third and fifth in the Russian top flight respectively, Lokomotiv and Krasnodar have enjoyed their Europa League adventures so far.

Igor Cherevchenko’s Lokomotiv finished top of Group H ahead of Sporting Lisbon with a 3-0 win over Skënderbeu. Both Oumar Niasse and Aleksandr Samedov have been firing on all cylinders, bagging four a-piece during the group stage, with the club’s only defeat coming against Sporting in November – a record matched by Krasnodar, who’s only loss came against German giants Borussia Dortmund.

Krasnodar completed their group stage adventure with a flourish, beating Qabala 3-0 in Azerbaijan, and finish top of Group C ahead of Champions League regulars Dortmund. A tough ask for any side, and Krasnodar will be feeling confident going into the knockouts.

Rubin Kazan failed to reach the knockouts for the first time in six Europa League campaigns after finishing third in Group B. They rounded off their European adventure with a largely academic 2-2 draw with French side Bordeaux, with Sion’s draw with Liverpool leaving Rubin with no chance of making it through.

The hopes of a nation rest with Zenit in Europe’s top competition, but the Europa League is a more realistic bet for Russian glory with both Lokomotiv and Krasnodar still vying for a first Russian Europa League triumph.

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