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A new revolution in St. Petersburg?

  • Story Highlights
  • Zenit St. Petersburg lead the Russian Premier Division with two matches to play
  • Zenit would be first non-Moscow club to win title since 1995
  • Zenit, bankrolled by Gazprom, are coached by Dutchman Dick Advocaat
  • Next Article in World Sport »
By Simon Hooper for CNN
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(CNN) -- Could the Russian title be heading out of Moscow for the first time since 1995?

Zenit pair Anatoliy Tymoschuk right, and Vladislav Radimov celebrate a goal for the Russian leaders.

With the season barely into its stride across most of Europe, in Russia -- the land of summer football -- the title race is already careering towards its climax.

And with a two-point lead and just two matches left, it is currently Zenit St. Petersburg who have their noses in front of the chasing pack following a 3-0 away win at Spartak Nalchik at the weekend.

For an idea of the extent of Muscovite dominance within domestic Russian football, just take a look at the top of the current Premier Division standings. Zenit lead the way, followed by a queue of clubs from the capital: Spartak Moscow, FC Moscow, CSKA Moscow, Saturn Moscow, Dinamo Moscow and Lokomotiv Moscow.

Only one club from outside the Moscow region -- Alania Vladikavkaz 12 years ago -- has won the title since the Russian league was established in 1992 following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

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And while eight-times champions Spartak are their main rivals for the top spot, two of Moscow's other clubs could still play their part in keeping the title in the capital, with Zenit due to host third-placed FC Moscow in the pocket-sized Petrovsky Stadium on Saturday before a tough looking trip to fifth-placed Saturn a week on Sunday.

By contrast, Spartak have two home games to finish; the first against bottom-placed Rostov and then a derby clash with struggling Dinamo.

Zenit have won the league title just once before in their history, in 1984 when the club were still known as Zenit Leningrad.

Anticipating the political changes to come, that championship came during a period of Soviet footballing glasnost in which the balance of power shifted from Moscow to clubs on the periphery such as Zenit, Dynamo Kiev, Dinamo Minsk, Dinamo Tblisi and Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk.

Yet these days, Zenit are no ordinary outsiders. Rival fans mutter conspiratorially that Zenit have benefited from the patronage of Russian President Vladmir Putin, a St. Petersburg native.

But more tangible reasons for Zenit's rise to fortune are easily found. Above all, the fact that the club is now owned by the state-run gas giant Gazprom, one of the world's largest and most powerful corporations, and subsequently enjoys the sort of resources which most other clubs -- even in a league swilling with new Russian money and imported foreign talent -- can only dream of.

That has enabled Zenit to bring in veteran Dutch coach Dick Advocaat, as well as players of the quality of Argentine striker Alejandro Dominguez, an $8 million acquisition from Rubin Kazan, and Ukrainian midfielder Anatoliy Tymoschuk, signed for $20 million from Shakhtar Donetsk from under the nose of Scottish champions Celtic in the biggest ever transfer deal between two clubs from the former Soviet Union.

It was Peter the Great, in the eighteenth century at the height of tsarist power, who moved his capital to St. Petersburg, establishing one of Europe's greatest imperial cities.

Under Soviet authority, the balance of power swung back to Moscow. Now on the football pitch at least, it appears that St. Petersburg's time may have come again. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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