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Zenit St. Petersburg secured third place in Champions League Group
Zenit St. Petersburg secured third place in Champions League Group H and will now defend their UEFA Cup title after Belarusian champions BATE Borisov went down 1-0 to Real Madrid in Minsk.

The match between Belarusian minnows BATE and Real Madrid took place on Tuesday evening in freezing temperatures and was decided by a goal from veteran striker Raul Gonzalez in the 7th minute.

The game took place shortly after Zenit had been held 0-0 at home by Juventus. The result meant that Zenit needed BATE to take points from Madrid to maintain their fading hopes of second place in the group and progress to spring's Champion League playoff stages.

As it was, Zenit had to be satisfied with the less prestigious UEFA Cup. They will not now return to the Champions League until at least the 2010/11 season, after finishing fifth in this year's Russian Premier League.

After Zenit's victory in the UEFA Cup final in May and their subsequent defeat of Manchester United in the Super Cup, many people expected great things from the club. The side were often mentioned as dark horses to win the Champions League, even after they had been drawn together with two of the giants of European soccer.

However, after narrowly losing to Juventus and Real Madrid in their first two matches, Zenit had a mountain to climb to qualify from the group, and their task got even harder after a 1-1 draw at home to BATE in October. Although they then chalked up their first Champions League victory with a 3-1 win in Minsk, they were left needing improbable victories over both Juventus and Real.

With a number of the team's stars, including Andrei Arshavin and captain Anatoly Tymoshchuk reportedly set to leave when the winter transfer window opens on January 1, last night's match against Juventus had an end-of-an era feel about it. The side, despite the UEFA Cup triumph, will surely go down in history as a team that never quite realized its potential.

Dutch trainer Dick Advocaat has already begun building a new side, and Zenit look set to sign Russian international Igor Semshov from Dynamo Moscow in the next few days. The player will become the second Dynamo star that Zenit, controlled by state-run energy giant Gazprom, have signed this year after the 2007 Russian champions bought Portuguese international Danny for a new club record in August.

Ironically, it was Danny who had Zenit's best chances against Juventus, missing two, as the player himself said "100% chances."

Arshavin, substituted in the 70th minute by Advocaat, in what was likely to have been his last home game as a Zenit player, called the draw "a fair result" on his personal website. The Russian international has said that if the club does not release him this winter then he will remain a Zenit player "on paper only."

"We deserved more points than we earned," Advocaat told Sovetski Sport, summing up the team's five Champions League games, adding that he had substituted Arshavin as the player "lost the ball too much."

The result also means that Zenit's final Group H tie, away to Real Madrid on December 10, is essentially meaningless for both clubs.

The draw for the knockout stages of the UEFA Cup takes place on December 19. Zenit will be joined in the Round of 32 by at least one other Russian club, CSKA Moscow, UEFA Cup winners in 2005. Spartak Moscow, currently occupying bottom spot in Group D, will look to get their campaign back on track on Thursday, when they take on Dynamo Zagreb in Croatia.

Group H (after 5 games)

Juventus - 11

Real Madrid - 9

Zenit - 5

BATE Borisov - 2

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