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Zenit maintains defense in poor relation UEFA Cup

Zenit maintains defense in poor relation UEFA Cup

With star-studded AC Milan ousted in the previous round, the UEFA Cup is living up to its reputation as the poor relation to the Champions League.
Even though the last 16 includes four-time European champion Ajax, which goes to Marseille in Thursday's third round, the Dutch club's last Champions League triumph was in 1995 and is no longer a true European powerhouse.
None of the 16 UEFA Cup teams have made it the final of European football's more prestigious club competition since then.
The field includes 10 teams which have won European titles before, but some of them were in a competition that no longer exists _ the Cup Winners' Cup.
But it also includes defending UEFA Cup champion Zenit St. Petersburg, which visits Italy's lone survivor, Udinese, on Thursday.
Its domestic season long over, Zenit has been preparing in Spain for the game and Dutch coach Dick Advocaat hopes his team can recapture the form that earned the title in Manchester last May.
"We had a good preparation camp in Spain," Advocaat said. "Udinese is a very tough opponent. They play defensive soccer and will not allow us to play our game as Stuttgart did (in the previous round)."
Zenit will be without injured defender Tomas Hubocan. But Belgian defender Nicolas Lambaerts has recovered from his injury and regular starters Anatoliy Tymoshchuk and Radek Shirl are back from suspension against an Udinese side which held AS Roma to a 1-1 draw on Saturday.
"That performance should serve as motivation for the game with Zenit," said Udinese midfielder Gokhan Inler, who has been learning all about Zenit. "They're the defending champions and I had a chance to see watch a few of their games in the Champions League. They look very solid and very well organized.
"They also have the advantage of the winter break in their league which allows them to focus only on the European games."
Zenit is one of two Russian teams still in the competition. The other is 2005 UEFA Cup champion CSKA Moscow, which hosts Shakhtar Donetsk, one of three teams from neighboring Ukraine.
CSKA is fresh from winning the Russian Supercup for the fourth time, beating the Russian league champion Rubin 2-1 in extra time on Sunday. It will have its Brazilian playmaker, Corvalho, back after missing half of the previous season because of injury.
"CSKA is in good form," Shakhtar coach Mircea Lucescu said. "And for the last four years they have practically the same squad, and understanding between players is almost automatic."
English football was going strong in the competition until two teams were knocked out in the previous round and now has only Manchester City, winner of the 1970 Cup Winners' Cup and without a major title for more than 30 years.
Mark Hughes' team, owned by a wealthy business consortium from Abu Dhabi, hosts Denmark's Aalborg, which outplayed Deportivo de La Coruna 6-1 on aggregate in the previous knockout round.
Dynamo Kiev, two-time Cup Winners' Cup champions, hosts Metalist Kharkiv in an all-Ukrainian game Thursday, and Hamburg, which won the European Cup in 1983, welcomes Galatasaray, which captured the UEFA Cup nine years ago.
The field included two more teams to have won the Cup Winners' Cup.
Paris Saint-Germain hosts Portugal's Braga and Werder Bremen, which knocked out Milan in the previous round, takes on Saint-Etienne, the 1976 European Cup runner-up.