Wed, May 18, 2005 - Page 20 News List

CSKA Moscow gets ready for glory

BIG DAY Underdogs CSKA Moscow and Portugal's Sporting Lisbon fight it out in the UEFA Cup final today, with the Russians poised to make modern soccer history


CSKA Moscow's presence in the UEFA Cup final against Sporting Lisbon today throws up the prospect of a first ever European trophy for a Russian club.

Coach Valery Gazzaev's side have knocked out impressive sides such as Benfica, Partizan Belgrade, Auxerre and Parma on their way to this final at the Jose Alvalade stadium, ironically Sporting's home ground.

Dynamo Moscow's defeat in the now-defunct European Cup Winners Cup final in 1972 was the sole appearance by any Russian club in a final, though if you add clubs from the former Soviet Union, you find three Cup Winners Cup champions -- Dynamo Kiev in 1975 and 1986, and Dynamo Tbilisi in 1981.

Gazzaev has reason to be optimistic with his side which has a wealth of talent in the attacking department as long as the young average age of the team -- just 22 -- does not count against them.

Brazilians Vagner Love and Daniel Carvalho have an inspirational effect on the rest of the team together with Russian under-21 international Yuri Zhirkov, who was superb in the 4-0 thrashing of Auxerre in the home leg of the quarterfinal, scoring two goals and setting up another.

However their first ever victory over an Italian club, in their 3-0 aggregate win over Parma in the semifinals, really showed their pedigree.

CSKA were invincible on their own ground, scoring 11 goals without reply in their four home matches from the last 32 onwards.

Moscow's 19-year-old keeper Igor Akinfeev even told the Russian press he was looking beyond this year's UEFA Cup, saying: "If we continue playing the way we have been, we will soon be playing in the Champions League final."

However, CSKA know Sporting will prove tough opposition particularly as the final is on their own pitch. Sporting have a fully-fit squad, including Brazilian Liedson who is the top scorer in Portugal with 24 goals.

Liedson was suspended for their 1-0 defeat at Benfica on Saturday following his fifth yellow card but is available today.

Coach Jose Peseiro has Nigerian defender Joseph Enakarhire and midfielders Rogerio and Carlos Martins back from injury which will boost his pool of players to choose from.

Neutrals have Sporting as the favorites. Only 2,000 to 3,000 CSKA supporters are likely to be present in the 50,000-capacity stadium, which will be a huge plus to Sporting.

The stadium opened in August 2003 and was used for the Euro 2004 tournament won by Greece and is the second-largest footballing venue in Lisbon behind Benfica's Stadium of Light.

Portugal's recent successes in European competition show the country has the players to excel at the highest level. Apart from Portugal reaching last year's Euro 2004 final, FC Porto won the Champions League last season and the UEFA Cup the year before.

Just days before Portugal's most important sporting occasion of the year, supporters are already getting in the mood by decorating their cars with flags and scarves in the green and white colors of Sporting.

And billboards advertising the match can be seen on the main roads of the capital as well as other strategic places such as airports.

And Barcelona's Deco, who won last season's Champions League with Porto, also firmly backed his countrymen.

"Sporting's performance this season proves the quality of Portuguese football. I fully back them," he said.

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