MOSCOW - Russian champions Zenit St Petersburg began the defence of their title with a hard-earned 1-0 win over Terek Grozny on Sunday as the new league season kicked off at the weekend amid uncertainty over its format.
No matter how they perform in 2011, Zenit will keep their crown for the next 15 months after Russian football bosses decided to break away from a traditional March-November format to a calendar more in line with the rest of Europe, extending the current season to the end of May 2012.
While fans across the country try to get to grips with the revolutionary changes, Russian FA chief Sergei Fursenko said the new format should help leading Russian clubs become more competitive in Europe.
For big spenders Zenit, whose annual budget is reported to exceed $160 million, such a move could not come soon enough after they were hammered 3-0 by Dutch side Twente Enschede in the Europa League last 16 tie on Thursday.
However, Luciano Spalletti's team shrugged off their European woes with an early goal by Serbian striker Danko Lazovic just enough to beat the hard-working Chechen side who made headlines in the off-season by hiring former World Player of the Year and Dutch international Ruud Gullit as coach.
"It was a very tough match," Italian Spalletti, who last year led Zenit to a domestic league and cup double in his first season in St Petersburg, told Russian television NTV Plus.
"Terek have improved from last year so I'm very happy we got the three points tonight. I would like to wish Ruud Gullit good luck. He has achieved a lot in football and I'm sure he would share new ideas, his vision and experience with his new team."
CSKA Moscow also rebounded from their Europa League defeat as Russia full back Sergei Ignashevich scored twice in four minutes either side of the interval to power last year's runners-up to a 2-0 win against debt-ridden Amkar Perm, who received a lifeline from league officials to remain in the top flight this year.
Amkar, who just avoided relegation last time, voluntarily decided to drop out of the Premier League after accumulating debts of 167 million roubles ($5.60 million) but changed their mind after getting help from the local government.
Terek's southern neighbours Anzhi Makhachkala were also in the news last month after signing former Brazil full-back Roberto Carlos. The 2002 World Cup winner, however, had a quiet Russian league debut as Anzhi were held to a 0-0 home draw by top flight newcomers FK Krasnodar on Saturday.
Spartak Moscow, Russia's lone winners in Europe this week with a 1-0 upset over former European champions Ajax Amsterdam, take on Rostov on Monday.comments