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The 2009 Russian Premier League gets underway this weekend,
The 2009 Russian Premier League gets underway this weekend, with the central match undoubtedly Sunday's clash between Spartak Moscow and UEFA Cup holders Zenit St. Petersburg in the Russian capital.

Russian championship winners in 2007, Zenit endured a difficult domestic campaign last year, finishing fifth and missing out on a 2009/10 Champions League spot as they sacrificed their Premier League season for European glory.

Zenit sold Andrei Arshavin to Arsenal at the beginning of February, and are set to let captain Anatoliy Tymoshchuk leave for Bayern Munich in the summer. However, Dutch coach Dick Advocaat has also made a number of signings, the most notable being the capture of Russian international Igor Semshov from Dynamo Moscow, and Hungarian midfielder Szabolcs Huszti from Hannover 96.

Spartak, the most successful Russian side of the 1990s, had a quieter close season, although the club, coached by Danish soccer legend Michael Laudrup, has signed Brazilian attacking midfielder Alex from Sport Club Internacional. The 26-year-old has played twice for Brazil.

Before Spartak and Zenit meet, surprise 2008 league champions Rubin Kazan kick off their defense of the title with a home match against newly promoted Kuban from the southern Russian city of Krasnodar. Rubin, set to make their Champions League debut later this year, have been given little chance of retaining their title by pundits. However, with players like Russian captain Sergei Semak and the returning Argentinean forward Alexander Dominguez, who turned out for the Tatar side from 2004-2006 before heading to St. Petersburg, the team are likely to be among the challengers.

CSKA Moscow, under new Brazilian coach Zico, have been strongly tipped to win their first league title since 2006, after finishing second last year. However, prolific Brazilian striker Vagner Love and Russian international Yuri Zhirkov look likely to move to top European sides during the summer transfer window, and the former Red Army club could find it hard to replace them. The side have also recently lost their major sponsor, Russia's state-controlled Vneshtorgbank, one of the country's largest banks. CSKA start their season with a trip to Moscow Region side Saturn on Sunday.

Dynamo Moscow, who finished in third place last season, grabbing Russia's final 2009/10 Champions League spot, will host opponents at Moscow Region side Khimki FC's home ground while their famous Petrovsky Park stadium undergoes extensive renovation.

This year looks set to see the highest profile Russian Premier League season yet, with the domestic game enjoying the fruits of the national side's recent success. Irish-based pay-TV broadcaster Setanta Sports is set to show 60 Russian Premier League matches in the U.S. and Canada this season, both live and tape-delayed. The season runs through the summer and finishes in November.

Opening Fixtures

March 14

Amkar vs. Rostov

Dynamo Moscow vs. Moskva FC

Lokomotiv Moscow vs. Khimki

Rubin vs. Kuban

March 15

Spartak Moscow vs. Zenit

Saturn vs. CSKA Moscow

Terek Grozny vs. Spartak Nalchik

Tom Tomsk vs. Krilya Sovetov

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