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Football | Europa League

Zenit eyeing Europa League



Russian champions Zenit St Petersburg are hungry for success in domestic and European competition despite being knocked out of the Champions League and suffering a slow start at homne, captain Miguel Danny said.

Zenit are currently third in the Russian Premier League with 38 points from 19 matches, five behind leaders CSKA Moscow.

The Russian league resumes on March 9 after the winter break, but in the meantime, Zenit will face English Premiership giants Liverpool over two legs for a place in the Europa league last 16 after failing to make the Champions League knock-out stages.

"Now only one thing is completely clear – it will be really hard," Portuguese star Danny told the club website.

"The matches with Liverpool will definitely be interesting and I hope that already in the first match against them we will look like the real Zenit and battle for the win together."

Danny, 29, appointed skipper in November after eight months on the sidelines with a leg injury, added: "It's really great to play against such outstanding opponents. Your motivation is normally boosted a great deal when you oppose a great club.

"Zenit has assembled a set of great players and they all want to win more trophies. Noone of us are set to rest on our laurels being pleased with Zenit winning the Uefa CUP and European Supercup in 2008. Everyone wants more wins and we have everything we need for it."

Zenit raised eyebrows across the world with the signing of Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel and Brazilian striker Hulk, reckoned to be the biggest transfer deals in Russian football history.

Yet fans are still waiting for the signings to translate into success on the field as both stars have yet to settle in the wake of the bitter internal conflict their arrival sparked.

Russia's national team captain Igor Denisov demanded a pay rise and walked out on the club for a month in protest at the salary paid to Hulk.

Hulk, in particular, has found it hard to adjust. He has scored just three goals in 11 leagues apperarances - two fewer than the yellow cards he has amassed - and has also found himnself at logerheads with Italian manager Luciano Spalletti over his substitution in a Champions League match, threatening to leave the club in the January transfer window before patching things up.

But Danny insisted that Zenit were capable of closing the gap on CSKA to retain the title.

"Of course in the current situation we also depend on the results of other title challengers. We need not only to win our matches but to expect also that current leaders will lose points in the remainder of the championship," Danny said.

"But I believe we are strong enough to defend our title."

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