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Zenit fires coach Luciano Spalletti after poor run

March 11, 2014

MOSCOW (AP) — Zenit St. Petersburg fired coach Luciano Spalletti on Tuesday following a poor run of form despite having turned the Russian club into a consistent Champions League team.

Besides winning two Russian league titles in three years at Zenit, the 55-year-old Italian was the first coach to take the St. Petersburg side beyond the group stage of the Champions League.

Zenit, owned by Russian state gas company Gazprom, has only one victory from its last 11 competitive games and faces elimination from Europe after losing 4-2 at home to Borussia Dortmund in the last 16 of the Champions League.

“The management of Zenit football club has taken the decision to dismiss Luciano Spalletti from the post of head coach,” Zenit said in a statement on its website, adding that the club “will always be happy to see him in St. Petersburg.”

Spalletti’s tenure at Zenit was dominated by his relations with star players, especially the challenge of integrating Brazil striker Hulk and Belgium midfielder Axel Witsel.

Hulk publicly said he wanted to leave Zenit in December 2012, three months after arriving, but soon went back on that demand and remains at the club.

In June, former Russia captain Igor Denisov left Zenit following reports of a conflict with Spalletti. Last month, current Russia captain Roman Shirokov was loaned out to FC Krasnodar amid similar reports.

Zenit said Spalletti’s temporary replacement would be reserve coach Sergei Semak, who retired as a Zenit player after last season.

Semak inherits a team in second place in the Russian league but faces the task of playing defending champion CSKA Moscow on Saturday and the second leg against Dortmund three days later.

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