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Russian President Dmitry Medvedev congratulated Zenit St. Petersburg on their recent
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev congratulated Zenit St. Petersburg on their recent UEFA Cup victory in the Kremlin on Friday.

"I would like this victory to be a turning point in the development of Russian soccer," said Medvedev during a meeting in the Kremlin's Catherine Hall with Zenit's players and the club's Dutch manager, Dick Advocaat.

Zenit beat Glasgow Rangers 2-0 in Manchester on Wednesday evening to become only the second Russia side, after CSKA in 2005, to win the trophy. No Russian team however has ever triumphed in the continent's most prestigious tournament, the Champions League.

The Russian champions were greeted by thousands of ecstatic fans on their arrival back in their home city of St. Petersburg. They then took the solid silver UEFA Cup to the capital to show it off to Russia's new president.

"Well done, guys! Well done!" said Medvedev at the beginning of the meeting, going on to add that, "This was a victory for Russia soccer as whole."

Russian soccer, after the nadir of the early 1990s, when the fans, the players and the money left the game during the country's chaotic post-perestroika period, has made huge leaps forward of late. With massive investment by energy giants and oligarchs, the Russian game has become the fifth richest in Europe in terms of turnover and as the quality of the players has improved, the fans have returned to the stadiums.

Medvedev also said that the development of the sport's infrastructure, the appearance of talented young players, and the opening of soccer schools was "everything that we wanted [for the game] in the 1990s."

"It is clear that for our country, even though we are no Brazil, soccer is the most popular sport. The success of Zenit is an important step in the development of the game in the country. I would like to thank you for the remarkable victory that you gave Russia. We are proud of you," said the Russian president.

The side presented Medvedev with the top worn by Andrey Arshavin, voted Man of the Match on Wednesday, in the final.

Medvedev also said that Dick Advocaat, who took Zenit to their first Russian title last year, had done much to transform Zenit into both Russian and UEFA Champions.

The appointment of another Dutch coach, Guus Hiddink, has also seen something of a revival for the national side, Russia beating England to the second qualifying place in their group for Euro 2008 last year.

Russia and Hiddink will now be hoping that Zenit's victory will prove the impetus for the national side to go on to do something that no other Russian team has done since the split up of the Soviet Union - get out of their group at a major tournament. However, with six Zenit players in the squad, and Hiddink at the helm of the side, many are tipping Russia to go further than just a place in the knockout stages.

Euro 2008, to be held in Austria and Switzerland, kicks off on June 7. Russia have been drawn in Group D with Spain, Sweden and Greece.


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