Bottom of the log, destined to go down, but they’re still in the Europa League.
Both Anzhi Makhachkala and Real Betis are giving their fans a last-hurrah before the relegation pain sets in.
Two clubs with contrasting stories are proving to be two of the success stories of a cup competition that has lost its romance over the years.
Anzhi Mackhachkala destined to become a European powerhouse. Then Suleyman Kerimov pulled the plug on his lavish funding. Out went the super stars, in went the academy players, reserve team players and previously unused squad members. They sit bottom of the Russian Premier League without a win from 19 league games this season, before today's shock 1-0 win over Rubin Kazan.
Yet the Europa League campaign has given their fans a swansong of a dynasty that didn't even get off the ground before the dark days of second division football – a far cry from the once promised Champions League football – kicks in. If the current circumstances are anything to go by, they probably won’t play in Europe any time soon.
Back-to-back group stage wins over Tromso, along with two draws against Moldovan outfit Sheriff Tiraspol ensured Anzhi’s progression into the last sixteen despite two defeats to eventual group winners Tottenham Hotspur.
After drawing their home-leg of their tie against the Belgian side Genk, the club who couldn't win a game domestically pulled off an upset and won 2-0 in Belgium. Weigh in the fact that the Russian Premier League is in its winter-break, Anzhi’s performance was that of a typical cup upset.
With AZ Alkmaar awaiting in the last sixteen and with fixtures such as the likes of Juventus versus Fiorentina, Benfica versus Tottenham Hotspur, Napoli versus Porto and a Seville derby of Real Betis versus Sevilla, Anzhi have a golden chance to progress into the quarter-finals with several of the big-guns having knocked each other out. This Cinderella story might be far from done.
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