Seven games in Russia ending with Tottenham’s visit to play Anzhi plus one Ice Hockey match in Moscow.
Army team fire blanks.
25th September 2013 CSKA Moscow 0 Anzhi Makhachkala 0 Russian Premier 8,500 (250 away)
I had arrived in Moscow at 6pm from London and was just able to get checked into my hotel close to Domodedovo, catch a train to Paveletskaya and take the metro for one stop and from there walk to the Torpedo stadium for the 8.30pm kick-off.
So in a way this was a bonus game, which I probably would not have been able to attend unless it was played at the Torpedo stadium rather than at the scheduled Khimki Arena.
The pitch at the Eduard Streltsov though was poor and cut up a lot following some earlier rain.
Ironically the match was moved to help preserve the surface at the Khimki for next weeks’ Champions League match.
The ground is typically retro with sections of open seating and scoreboards of different vintage at either end.
The CSKA ultras, along the side, provided good support and plenty of pyro (and impressive black smoke) later on.
Some 250 or so from Makhachkala were in a small section to the right.
This was a good defensive performance by Anzhi, now shorn of many players after their financial issues.
They played mostly on the break, especially in the second half, making it hard for the home side to create serious chances.
CSKA developed pressure but no end result.
And it could have been worse as a in a rare attack Anzhi looked to have got a penalty as a forward seemed to be brought down by Akinfeev but the referee ruled otherwise and the striker was penalised for diving.
The weather stayed dry but fairly cold.
A brisk exit and through the usual phalanx of police guiding everyone to the metro and for me the airport train back to Domodedovo and my hotel, by midnight.
Loko steam through the Urals.
26th September Ural 0 Lokomotiv Moscow 3 Premier 11,240 (250 away)
Historic Ekaterinburg was almost balmy during this Thursday afternoon.
But it did get colder later.
And definitely not too hot for the home side either as they hardly got in a blow against an impressive Lokomotiv team prompted by Mbark Boussoufa.
The Moscow side started quickly scoring from a N’Doye header and following a red card for Vjestica the game never looked like being a contest.
Tarasov added a second on 26 minutes as the visitors dominated possession.
Despite this they only got the clinching third goal in the final minutes when sub. Lassana Diarra drove in a right footer.
The central stadium is somewhat of a surprise with large, low-rake seats along the side and smaller two tier ends, mostly covered.
Its more Ullevi in style than the typical Russian ground.
And conveniently close to the central Ulitsa Lenina.
From where I took a taxi back to my airport hotel after the match and enjoyed some wine before bed.
And an early start for the S7 flight back to the capital.
Chechens beat Russians.
28th September Terek Grozny 2 CSKA Moscow 0 Premier 16,820 (no away)
I reached the Chechen capital via Moscow and Grozny Air (using an elderly Yak-42, reaching the seats through the tail of the aircraft)
You soon know you are somewhere away from mainstream Russia when you exit the terminal in Grozny and are immediately faced with a mosque.
That and the headscarves signal a different culture.
As you might expect, following two recent wars, security is very evident with soldiers and police in large numbers.
The guys who kindly gave me a lift into the centre mentioned ‘the Russians don’t visit here’.
Once in the city you suddenly feel you’re in the Gulf or the Middle East with skyscrapers, fountains and a very impressive mosque.
The night scenery was lit by multi-coloured lighting.
Near my hotel they were working on getting everything ready for the 5th October birthday celebrations.
No need to ask whose birthday it is as there are numerous pictures of President Kadyrov and son and to give balance they are usually accompanied by images of (nobel peace prize nominee) President Putin.
The centre of Grozny is relatively compact and I strolled along Putin street (!) and visited the national museum (medium sized with interesting Cossack items) followed by a fairly distant look at the Presidential residence area.
Numbers of new developments are going on and I struggled to find any signs of the past destruction.
As in many Islamic cultures there is no alcohol available, except as it turned out at my hotel.
So I accompanied my soup and shashlik with some red wine whilst admiring the panoramic view on the 32nd floor. That was the night before the game.
On the day of the match I walked to the stadium though it takes longer than might be judged since you have to detour around the Presidential complex.
Sadly the weather was a lot cooler (12 degrees) than the previous day (23 degrees) with a nasty wind from the east.
Once near the ground security was tight with various checks on the way in - they even made sure my camera was genuine.
But once inside the Ahmat Arena you are in a modern stadium with single tier cover on 3 sides and a larger two tier ‘main stand’.
The home ultras, with an impressive twenty drummers, were behind the goal and they changed ends at half-time in echos of an earlier age.
This was the first win for Terek so far this season and they generally deserved the victory as CSKA found it hard to create. Japanese star Honda being unable to work his magic.
Terek scored first with a fine goal by Brazilian Kanu (one of four in the Terek lineup) and later sealed the deal with a great volley from sub. Lebedenko.
Rather than walk the whole way back I reached Kirova and got a taxi.
Instead of getting the slow train from Gudermes, my original plan, I decided to take the advice of a very helpful hotel customer relations lady and went by marshrutka (this being Sunday) firstly to Khasavyurt then on to Makhachkala.
Again there were numerous police along the way though we were never stopped ourselves.
In general the roads were fine.
Deadlock in Dagestan.
29th September Anzhi Makhachkala 2 Amkar Perm 2 Premier 12,127 (2 away)
This was a very watchable game with an exciting finish.
Getting in was more relaxed here.
The Anzhi-Arena (outside of town near Kaspiysk) is more like a warmer climes stadium with a partial roof and lots of green and yellow seats.
The home ultras setup at either end, though with only a couple of drummers.
Before the game started we had suitably exotic music and a parade of flags.
Both sides played attacking football with the home team eventually taking the lead with a dubious penalty just before half-time.
That was tough on Amkar who had a man dismissed in the second but that didn’t stop them attacking and they equalised and then, with two minutes left, got what looked like the winner when Picusceac coolly shot in after eluding the goalie.
But in a goalmouth scramble Solomatin slotted home a joyous leveller.
So the home fans could celebrate up to a point with another draw, but it still leaves them at the foot of the Russian Premier.
The two brave Amkar fans also had their moments.
I was able to negotiate a taxi ride (albeit shared with some locals) back to the city.
No alcohol here so a relatively early night.
Comparing Grozny to Makhachkala is instructive.
The Chechen capital feels more strictly Islamic, female workers are obliged to wear headscarves and there are seemingly more mosques. Security is much more in evidence especially near the airport and in the centre.
The city centre is however walkable and it has a Gulf-like makeover with skyscrapers and spectacular lighting. Pictures of the president(s) are everywhere.
Whereas Makhachkala is more relaxed and like a typical mid-sized Russian city.
Large and mostly poorer, without any pictures of presidents.
Though I did note one of Stalin above the communist party headquarters.
In a way it is shame Anzhi are unable to entertain European visitors in their own stadium
because from my (limited) experience the locals are welcoming and helpful.
In neither place was there any sense of war damage or feeling of tension. No doubt dangers may lurk, probably in the mountain areas, but in Grozny itself there is plenty of development and in Makhachkala the apparent normality of a Russian city.
However as a reminder of what can happen a few days later the Moscow Times reported that 10 people had died in a shootout in the mountains near Makhachkala and a bomb had been defused in another city nearby.
Railwaymen fail to strike.
30th September 2013 Lokomotiv Moscow 0 Tom Tomsk 0 Premier 8,460 (20 away)
A reasonably early start and I left Dagestan for the airport to get the Red Wings airlines Tupolev 204 flight to the capital.
Then from starbucks to Kazansky train station to drop off my bag before making the metro ride to the Lokomotiv stadium.
Before the game I warmed up with a Belgian beer in the nearby bar/restaurant.
Warming up was needed on a cold Moscow evening.
The local ultras could jump up and down.
We had two dismissals in the second half including Lassana Diarra of the home side.
But no goals.
The visitors did get the ball in the net but it was ruled out for offside.
Generally Tomsk concentrated on defence and frustrating Loko who found it hard to get in a telling blow.
It was a valuable point for the visitors who are near the foot of the table, but not so good for the Moscow side even with a late appearance by ex-Tottenham ‘star’ Roman Pavlyuchenko.
I took the metro back to Kazansky and sorted myself out before getting on the overnight train to Saransk.
A journey of 9 hours or so it was tolerably comfortable with around 5 hours of sleep.
An early morning walk along Lenina to the Park Hotel where I had breakfast and then settled down to spend time on the internet.
Early penalty decides.
1sr October Mordovia Saransk 1 Salyut Belgorod 0 Russian 1st division 2,000 (no away)
Saransk is on the list of cities scheduled to hold World Cup matches in 2018.
It has a pleasant park area, an impressive cathedral and other buildings nearby plus some museums though the main one was closed for renovation.
However the coffee culture has yet to reach the city and there are but a few restaurants/bars.
Add in that the airport sees maybe one flight a day and it is a long train ride from most other places and you wonder why it was selected (ahead of say, Krasnodar)
The local team don’t attract too many fans either even though they are top of the ‘second’ division.
But the Park hotel is cosy and close to the Start stadium.
The game itself was a contrast between the attractive passing game of Salyut and the more direct, faster play of Mordovia.
Despite the visitors looking easy on the eye, with Semenov prominent, in the end they produced less than the home side, hitting the post was as near as they came to scoring.
Whereas Mordovia had a couple of very good chances though they were spurned.
A penalty for tripping, comfortably delivered, in the fifth minute decided the outcome.
The home ultras in a section of the semi-temporary seating to the right could celebrate.
As is the trend they had a period of ‘shirts off’ - you need to be pretty hardy to be a Russian ultra in winter !
It was certainly cold (we had some snow earlier in the day) and I was glad of a warming meal in the hotel whilst watching Zenit in the Champions League.
Next to me some locals were enjoying their vodka.
You know when it takes effect when they start singing.
An early start on the Wednesday to get the Moscow flight.
Judgement of Barys.
2nd October Spartak Moscow HC 3 Barys (Astana) 4 2,309 (50 away)
And a break from the football to see a game in the Kontinental Hockey League.
200 roubles (plus 100 for a large programme) gets you in to see two teams well up in their respective divisions.
Barys, rather surprisingly backed by about 50 fans from Kazakhstan, were ahead 2-1 in the first period and they also dominated most of the second without adding to their score.
But the visitors did increase their advantage to 4-1 in the final period before Spartak staged a late rally, scoring from a close range shot and a deflected effort in the final minutes.
We had a timeout with about 27 seconds remaining but the home side couldn’t equalise in the moments that remained.
This was my second ice hockey game in Eastern Europe and as before it was fast paced entertainment although, at least for this occasional watcher, hard to identify with particular players.
Back at my hotel I had a nightcap at the nearby Soviet style restaurant and bar with its pictures of Lenin and old photos. Sadly the prices were not retro.
Spurs look like a team from another planet.
3rd October Anzhi Makhachkala 0 Tottenham 2 Europa League 6,500 (200 away)
I spent some of the morning visiting the excellent Tretyakov gallery admiring the pictures of Russian luminaries (including Ivan the Terrible - I’m sure he would have no problem taking his shirt off with the ultras in the middle of winter) and evocative landscapes.
Because of Anzhi being banned from hosting European games in Dagestan this match was held in the Saturn stadium in Ramenskoye, near Moscow.
In fact about an hour’s train ride from the capital.
After dominating possession Spurs went ahead when Jermain Defoe found space on the edge of the area and shot in right footed. Chadli added a second soon after and from then onwards it was never really a contest.
Anzhi provided some threats once tall striker Traore have come on, including the odd shot, but the visitors were always in control and probably could have stepped it up if necessary.
Spurs were indeed a class or two above Anzhi and you might say, from another planet.
Some 200 or so London fans made the trip and they were in a corner of the ground.
The Anzhi supporters plus neutrals were mostly along the side in this small, covered, modern stadium.
Which feels cosier than many on a slightly less cold night.
We did have a minor incident when a local seemed to be shouting invective at the Anzhi fans - he was ejected and soon after the fans returned to waving their large flags.
So Tottenham are top of their Europa League group and Anzhi will have to prioritise moving off the bottom of the Russian league.
I took a convenient train back to Kazansky station in Moscow and onwards via metro to my hotel by midnight.
And a return to the UK on Friday.
More pictures at http://www.photobox.co.uk/album/2115149435