Sergei Fursenko

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Putin mocks Russian team Zenit over foreign players

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MOSCOW (AP) Russian President Vladimir Putin has mocked top club Zenit St. Petersburg for not fielding enough Russian players.

With Russia hosting the World Cup next year, Putin told a meeting of sports officials that Zenit couldn’t claim to be popularizing soccer as a “truly Russian game” because it didn’t give enough starts to Russian players.

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When Zenit president Sergei Fursenko suggested more attractive styles of play could attract fans and make football “a real Russian game,” Putin hit back.

Apparently referring to Zenit’s last Europa League group stage game against Spain’s Real Sociedad, the Russian president says, “you’ve got eight foreigners running across the pitch, playing for Zenit in the Europa League, well done,” in televised remarks.

Zenit started against Sociedad with three Russians, five Argentines, a Slovenian, a Serbian and an Italian. Three Russians came on as substitutes.

Russian league games allow seven non-Russians on the pitch at any time.