Thursday, October 11, 2012

Russia September & October 2012

Six Russian league games including the Moscow derby between Spartak and CSKA plus an Ice Hockey game in Ekaterinburg.

29th September 2012  Kuban Krasnodar 2 Terek Grozny 1  Russian Premier  16,750

From Moscow (stopping near the edifice that is the Cosmos hotel - more small town than hotel) then on to Krasnodar where the temperature feels like Spain rather than Russia.

Krasnodar has the feel of a progressive city with some nice apartment blocks going up around the river area.
It also has a pleasant main street (ul. Krasnaya) that is closed for weekend traffic from Friday evening onwards.

On this particular weekend there was a honey market showing off the local produce and the twentieth cultural visit by reps from Karlsruhe as well as some other celebrations.
Many locals enjoyed the ambience.

The Kuban stadium is easily walkable from the centre and it comprises open seats, curving round at the ends with two tiers along the sides.
Both Kuban and their spin-off Krasnodar are planning new stadiums in the next few years.

There were around 200 fans supporting Terek with some likely to be based locally.
Most of the home ultras were in the right hand end.

The game’s highlights were a corner routine that led to the opener for the home side which was nullified by an awesome 40 yard strike from the Czech central defender Jiranek.
But when the Kuban sub. Ozbiliz came on he changed the game with crosses from the right and a shot across the goalie for the winner.

With the weather remaining warm I went to the central area, had a beer in the busy Irish pub followed by some vodka as the fireworks went off in the background.

As it stands Krasnodar will not be hosting any World Cup matches which seems a shame.

30th September  Rostov 0 Rubin Kazan 4  Russian Premier   11,740

My favoured option was to take a bus from Krasnodar to Rostov - around a four and a half hour trip.
The alternative - a train - either meant a very early or too late start.

But the bus though it looked somewhat elderly was comfortable and reliable enough.
As is often the case one of the trickiest matters is buying a ticket at the bus station & in this case  I was able to gain help from a kindly English-speaking local.

When the bus arrives in Rostov it travels near to the river and you get good views of one of the impressive central churches.

My hotel was further east - out towards the airport and it was also possible to walk to the Olimp-2 stadium.
In the ground the Rostov fans, including some lively ultras, were joined by just ten fans from Kazan.

But it was the away side that dominated with Venezuelan Salomon Rondon scoring two goals in the first half and missing some other chances as the home defence failed to close down the space.
Turkish winger Karadeniz was an early threat and he provided the cross for Rondon to head in the first.

There was very little for the fans to cheer and they were drifting away as Italian defender Boccheti rose to head in unmarked on 81 minutes.
Another in added time just prolonged the agony for the ten men of Rostov (who had defender Salata sent off for two yellow cards)

Rostov had names from the ‘past’ in their starting lineup including Sinama-Pongolle (anonymous) and David Bentley (generally ineffective)

I got the bus back to my hotel and had a Tuborg and a snickers bar.

1st October Krylya Sovetov 2 Krasnodar 2   Russian Premier  10,458

An early start to get the S7 flight to Moscow then a four hour or so stopover at Domodedovo before flying on to Samara.
Where it starts to feel more like Russian weather with leaves falling from the trees and winter on its way.

The Metallurg stadium sounds less than cosy and it definitely was in the intermittent rain and cold wind.
There is virtually no cover with three sides of good sized open seating in the club colours of green and blue.

This match had a lot more chances than the first two I’d seen with both sides missing good opportunities before the visitors scored through Movsisyan who shot through the goalie’s legs.

Krasnodar continued to play the better football but they were pegged back by two goals from Paraguayan striker Luis Caballero.

But the visitors came out with purpose in the 2nd half and they deserved at least a point.
Brazilian sub. Wanderson was on hand to score the equaliser and he missed a good chance to get the decider.   

I saw little of Samara but what I did see looked typically Soviet with old apartment blocks, limited signage and fairly bleak streets.

In my hotel (the taxi driver who took me back from the game guessed where I was staying) I chose the fish soup and a beer followed by an early night.

As I had another very early start to get the 5.20am flight to Moscow.

3rd October Ice Hockey Kontinental League Avtomobilist 0 Slovan Bratislava 1   3,000

Then onward to chilly Ekaterinburg where I planned to watch Ural play in the 1st Division but things didn’t work out that way and I had to settle for just seeing the Ice Hockey.

I could say that I was tired and the weather was fairly grim but ultimately it was an error of planning that led me to the wrong stadium.
I’d also not allowed much contingency time so when I was at, as it turned out, the incorrect ground in the Uralmash area I had little time to find the correct location.
Combine that with there being nobody around who spoke English and no sign of a taxi and I was stumped.

I think the last time I went to the wrong place was back in the Sixties when I got off at the wrong stop for Walton & Hersham.
Ekaterinburg is somewhat further to go for a missed match.

But at least the hockey was enjoyable being played in a small arena where even from the cheap seats (300 roubles and 80 for a decent programme) you felt the complete experience.

The speed and noise was terrific. It was just a shame that Avto were second best as Slovan produced many more shots on the home goal.
Just one went in, in the second period during a power play.

Slovan, mid way in the Western Conference had the aptly named Janus in their goal and they could also call on Satan, if needed,as an outfielder.
Avto were now 2 wins out of ten and bottom of the East.

Inside it was 16 degrees, outside about +2 but felt lower due to the severe wind chill (and sleet)

Ekaterinburg has lots of history and I had visited the Church Of the Blood earlier in the day as well as the City History museum and the old railway museum.
It would certainly repay another trip, ideally not in October when the weather is getting wintry.
Getting wintry in early October makes it tough to contemplate that the locals have to endure at least six months of this, and much worse.

By train, five hours, from Ekaterinburg to a stopover in Perm.
Which is a progressive city with a helpful tourist office and a choice of specified ‘walks’ around the historic central areas.
It didn’t have the penetrating wind from the Urals like Ekaterinburg and so it was more comfortable to stroll about.
In the evening I partook of an excellent steak washed down with some weissbeer.

Then an early morning train to Nizhny Novgorod.

Sixteen hours in a Russian train (second class) takes its toll - the last five hours did particularly drag.
Not much to see - just endless pine trees interspersed with some towns and some fairly long stops.
I guess given the slack in the schedule its not too difficult to arrive on time, as it did.

In a way it feels like you are stepping back in time at the stations with people selling food and gifts from the platforms and (unofficial) porters ready to help with your bags.

6th October Volga Nizhny Novgorod 0 Mordovia Saransk 2  Russian Premier  3,100

A small crowd at this game with about 30 fans from Saransk.
They saw the bottom two teams in the Russian Premier battle it out in fairly cool, rainy conditions.

Volga were unlucky after going behind to an early penalty they hit the bar four times and missed a pen. of their own (Asildarov blasted it into row Z)
Mordovia spent most of the second half content to defend and slow the match down.
They sealed the win with a late free kick by substitute Panchenko.

That was the cue for the locals to depart.

NN has some older grounds, one of which, the Volnik was very central and accessible.
It had an impressive selection of decrepit terrace and a concrete track.

The city itself has a mix of old wooden buildings and newer developments.
And there are some trendy looking bars and restaurants (normally without English menus) plus an impressive Kremlin.
As you might expect there are some great views of the Volga river.

For dinner I chose a Japanese meal together with a Mojito.

7th October 1.30pm Dinamo Moscow 0 Anzhi Makhachkala  2   Russian Premier  7,712

An early flight to a much improved Sheremetyevo airport, the airport express train to the metro and then on to my hotel.
Followed by coffee in Starbucks then the metro to Leningradsky station.
Where there was a special train to Khimki for the Dinamo fans.

The Khimki arena is, for a change, a modern, all covered stadium with medium sized stands.
Its always satisfying to see both sets of fans at either end of a ground, and so it was with around 400 providing good support for Anzhi.
They chanted ‘Dagestan’ to annoy the Muscovites.

Anzhi had familiar names in their lineup with captain Samuel Eto’o up front and Chris Samba in defence.
But it was Mbark Boussoufa who would pull the strings in midfield, especially after Dinamo had also been reduced to ten men.
Earlier Anzhi had Joao Carlos dismissed for a ‘professional foul’ and they proceeded to slow down the game and generally keep Dinamo under control.

But when it was ten versus ten the away side stepped up the play with sub.Mehdi Carcela having a hand in both goals, the 2nd setting Eto’o free for him to convert in typical fashion.

So Anzhi stayed top of the Russian Premier.

Walking back to the station past the numerous police I managed to get on a very crowded Moscow bound train along with quite a few Spartak and CSKA fans.

7th October 6pm Spartak Moscow 0 CSKA Moscow 2  Russian Premier   54,228 (20,000 away)

And so to the Luzhniki via the metro.

Where the big Moscow derby provided plenty of pyrotechnics and choreography from both sets of fans, the Spartak ultras to the left, the CKSA (section D) fans to the right.

On the field Ahmed Musa (Papiss Cisse-like) certainly proved the better Nigerian striker, as against Emmanuel Emenike (more Yakubu), especially when he combined with the Japanese Keisuke Honda to be a constant threat to the Spartak defence.

Their passing interchange on fifteen minutes got CSKA in front and they would add a second on 57 to effectively clinch the victory.

Spartak despite having the larger support found it difficult even with the inclusion of tall front man Dzyuba.

The game, on the artificial pitch, was played in reasonable weather after a morning of heavy rain.

Many Spartak fans were drifting away well before the end.
I joined them on the metro via Park Kultury to my hotel where after a tiring period of travel I settled for a small Hoegaarden and an early night.

And so after visiting some new Russian cities what impressions did I get ?

Firstly the reinforcement of the size of the country illustrated, for instance, by being in Krasnodar in temperatures of 27 degrees followed a few days later by about the 2 degrees (and far less in the wind chill) of Ekaterinburg.
The weather is also a factor in that when it rains or snows you have to be prepared to get your boots muddy - drainage is a constant issue and pavements and roads soon get roughened.

And there remains the tricky matter of buying train or bus tickets and generally finding you way around when few locals speak English (e.g. Rostov is one city that currently does not have a street map on Google)

But, as usual, after a few days you can synchronise into most of the cyrillic script and thus identify street names and suchlike.
Reading menus is much harder and outside of the main tourist locations not too many restaurants have an English option.

So there is always a challenge however what you see only makes you want to see more knowing that there is so much compelling variety in the cities, the vast terrain and the culture.
And the signs of progress continue to be evident.

more pictures viewable at

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