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Villarreal face Zenit St. Petersburg on Thursday

It will be around freezing, and maybe some snow. Springtime in Russia!!

Four years together—Castellón Airport and Villarreal.
Villarreal CF

Villarreal have travelled to Russia to take on FK Zenit St. Petersburg. The team posed with a banner celebrating the fourth anniversary of Castellón airport being used for flights (you may remember, the airport was opened before there were any commercial flights, so Villarreal’s charter was the first one).

The match at St. Petersburg on Thursday has an early kickoff (10AM California time) and the weather is expected to be around freezing, maybe some light snow, who knows. Sounds jolly.

Some information about Zenit:

Anyhow, Zenit (the name means “zenith”) has a convoluted history. It may have been founded before the Russian Revolution, or maybe not (the club currently uses 1925 in his badge as the founding date) but the name Zenit dates from 1936. It was owned/connected with a military steelmaking plant and later an optical plant.

Suffice it to say that for a long time, it didn’t have much success in the Russian league, but they did achieve an unusual feat in 1967. They finished last in the league but weren’t relegated. Why? Because it was the 50th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, which began in Leningrad (then the name of St. Petersburg) so it wasn’t felt “appropriate” to relegate them!!

The Russian “Top Division” was reconstituted as the Russian League in 1990, and the teams were re-registered as independent professional clubs. Prior to that, they had been closely connected with various branches of Soviet government and military.

Zenit’s glory years have coincided with the sale of the club to Gazprom in December 2005. They spent a big chunk of money on a new stadium and new players, and in 2006 hired Dick Advocaat as manager. He led them to a UEFA Cup title (2007-08) and a league title. Luciano Spaletti and André Villas-Boas followed, Roberto Mancini too, and while they produced some Russian league titles and cups, in summer 2018 they went with a Russian manager and former Zenit player Sergey Simak.

This Europa League: It hasn’t been easy for Zenit. They entered at the third qualifying round and lost away to Dinamo Minsk, 4-0. In the return leg (which was played behind closed doors, owing to a UEFA penalty to Zenit for racist chanting in a Europa League match the preceding May) the St. Petersburg side were up 4-0 after 90 minutes, the match went into extra time. Ahead 5-1 after the first half of extra time, they scored three more times (including two penalties) to move on, and defeated Norwegian side Molde 4-3 in the playoff round.

In the group phase, they were matched up with Slavia Prague, Bordeaux and Copenhagen and ended up on top, with 11 points. Matched up with Fenerbahce in the round of 32, they lost 1-0 in Turkey but won 3-1 at home.

Past meetings: Villarreal played Zenit in the EL Round of 32 in 2008. We lost 1-0 in St. Petersburg and the return leg at El Madrigal was a bit wild. Zenit took a 1-0 lead but had two players sent off for second yellows in the second half; Villarreal scored twice late on but went out on the away-goals rule. Zenit “fans” celebrated by doing a good deal of damage to the seats assigned to them, and Sr. Roig presented Zenit with a hefty bill for their repair, which I gather was paid.

Santi Cazorla, by the way, started both of those matches for us.

Trivia: (as if avoiding relegation in 1967 wasn’t enough): Famed Soviet composer Dimitri Shostakovich was a football fan (his music to the spectacle “Russian River” includes a football ballet of some type) and Zenit was his favorite team. So there.