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Zenit St. Petersburg have reacted angrily to claims that their recent
Zenit St. Petersburg have reacted angrily to claims that their recent UEFA Cup triumph was 'bought' by members of a Russian gang arrested by Spanish police in a nationwide operation last June.

The matches concerned are Zenit's 2nd leg semi-final tie with German club giants Bayern Munich, which the Russians won 4-0, and the subsequent 2-0 victory against Glasgow Rangers in the final.

The Spanish ABC newspaper reported that during intercepted telephone calls between Tambov gang leaders Gennady Petrov and Leonid Khristoforov, the Russian mafia bosses bragged about paying "some 50 million" to ensure that Zenit would win their games against Bayern and Rangers.

Neither the currency involved, nor the exact methods used to 'fix' the games were stated. It is also not clear what the gang had to gain from their alleged fixing of the results.

The Tambov gang hails from St. Petersburg and takes its name from the city in southwest Russia that its founders were born in. It is thought to have several hundred active members.

Twenty Russians suspected of being members of the gang and involved in laundering the proceeds from organized crime were arrested by Spanish police in June in Madrid and Barcelona, as well as Malaga, Valencia and the Balearic Islands.

Accusations of match-fixing are common in Russian soccer, but the claims exclusively involve domestic games. Bayern's goalkeeper in their 4-0 defeat in St. Petersburg was the legendary Oliver Kahn. The German keeper retired from soccer at the end of last season, and had often stated that he dreamt of taking his bow in the UEFA Cup final.

"There have been a number of media reports quoting various sources in Spain that concern the reputation of FC Zenit. The performances by Zenit in the games against Bayern and Rangers are the best proof that these victories were achieved in honest and uncompromising battles," a statement on the Zenit website read.

"At the moment, Zenit's lawyers are evaluating the context of the original publications," the statement added.

The press secretary for state-run energy giant Gazprom, which has a controlling stake in Zenit, added that there was "no doubt that the victory was honest."

He also said that at present, Gazprom lawyers are not involved in the bid to clear the club's name.

UEFA spokesman William Gaillard told the Daily Mail that, "We know about this story and it is something that our investigations unit would obviously be keen to look into."

"Allegations of this nature are always worrisome to hear. It is important that we find out what is factual and what is only speculation or part of a newspaper story," he added.

Zenit's Dutch coach Dick Advocaat, who was also the Glasgow Rangers' manager from 1998-2002, told the Daily Record: "This is incredible. All I can say is, let them play the tapes so we can hear what has been said. Then everyone will know what a big lie it is. Everyone knows the simple truth - we had a better team than Rangers. That's why we won the UEFA Cup."

"There is a lot of jealousy about what we have achieved with Zenit in such a short space of time. People don't like the fact that we have been so successful so quickly. But that has nothing to do with bribes or dirty money. It has everything to do with the quality of the players and coaching staff," he added.

The vice-president of the Russian Football Union, Nikita Simonyan told the Sport Den Za Dnem website: "We are used to this kind of thing. Even some of our so-called fans have a tendency to see everything negatively. If we lose, we played badly. If we win, that means we bought the game. This is nonsense."

"I've even heard stories about how we bought our Euro 2008 victory against Holland - I've been told the exact sum," he added, going on to say that clubs like Bayern Munich "don't play dirty matches."

Ordinary Russian fans were also skeptical, with one supporter, Dmitry Dudenkov, telling RIA Novosti that the claims were "rubbish."

"We bought everything of course! The win against Holland, the ice-hockey world championships, and Dima Bilan's Eurovision victory!" he said.


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