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Leaders Zenit to pass tough Spartak test after Europa League flop

Moscow (AFP) – Zenit St Petersburg hope to bounce back from their midweek Europa League disappointment on Sunday when they travel to arch rivals Spartak Moscow aiming to strengthen their lead at the top of the Russian Premier League.

Zenit, who crashed out of the Europe on Thursday with a 5-2 aggregate defeat to the Spanish side Villarreal, have a five-point lead at the top over second-placed Krasnodar, who also have a tough trip to the capital to take on reigning champions Lokomotiv Moscow.

Zenit manager Sergei Semak blamed his side’s wayward finishing for the 2-1 defeat in Spain that sealed their fate.

“Of course we wanted to advance further in the Europa League,” Semak said afterwards. “But we allowed Villarreal to score twice and failed to convert our early chances. That made the difference. 

“Now we need to focus completely on the match with Spartak. I expect a very tough battle.”

Meanwhile, fourth-placed Spartak, who are eight points back and boosted their chances of a place in next season’s Champions League with a hard-fought 1-0 derby win over Dynamo Moscow last week, are aiming to claw themselves back into the title race.

“We won a very important match with Dynamo though we failed to show our best football,” Spartak boss Oleg Kononov said. “Now we want to win on Sunday. We have worked hard this week and I hope we’ve prepared well for the meeting with Zenit.”

– Heart break –

Krasnodar prepare for their clash at Lokomotiv after a desperate last-gasp elimination from the Europa League that has extended their winless run in all competitions to 10 matches.

Murad Musaev’s side were set to be Russia’s sole remaining representatives in Europe after Magomed Suleymanov’s 85th-minute opener looked to have put them through on away goals ahead of Valencia, only for Goncalo Guedes to break their hearts with a dramatic injury-time equaliser to send the Spaniards through 3-2 on aggregate.

“We lost concentration in the last minute of the match and it cost us a place in the quarter-finals,” he said. “Against Valencia my team played really well but it was not enough to go through.

“Now we need to keep this fighting mood for the match with Lokomotiv to stay in the title race.”

Lokomotiv are fired up after their chances of retaining the national title with the last week’s 2-0 win at Anzhi Makhachkala, are now set to show their best on Sunday.